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People Judge Your Intelligence Based on the Tone of Your Voice and How Fast You Speak

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People Judge Your Intelligence Based on the Tone of Your Voice and How Fast You Speak

Do you want people to think you are intelligent? Has someone ever told you “You’re much smarter than you look.”?

No doubt it can sting to be perceived as less intelligent, particularly when you never had a chance to showcase your intellect in the first place! And while this might be a social inconvenience, it can be a huge setback when it comes to your career.

If you walk into a job interview and the first impression the interviewer has of you is ‘not very intelligent’, what are the chances of you getting that job? Enough said.

It’s Your Voice That Matters Most

But what determines whether or not someone perceives you as intelligent at first glance? If you ask a person off the street, they would likely highlight looks and conversational skills as the main factors. But science shows otherwise.

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In a study [1] published in the Journal of Psychological Science, MBA students from the University of Chicago were videotaped giving pitches on why they should be hired. Prospective employers and professional recruiters were then given three options: viewing the video, listening to the audio, or reading a transcript.

Here’s what the study concluded:

“These evaluators rated a candidate as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard a pitch rather than read it and, as a result, had a more favorable impression of the candidate and were more interested in hiring the candidate. Adding voice to written pitches, by having trained actors or untrained adults read them, produced the same results. Adding visual cues to audio pitches did not alter evaluations of the candidates. For conveying one’s intellect, it is important that one’s voice, quite literally, be heard.”

To summarize, when it comes to first impressions on intelligence, looks don’t matter; your voice does.

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The reason behind this finding is attributed [2] to human evolution; our voices are tools that have been carefully honed for communication. In text, paralinguistic cues that provide critical information about a speaker’s intelligence and thoughtfulness are lost.

3 Keys To Making a Good First Impression

Now that you know how important your voice is in making a good first impression, let’s take a look at the keys in making a good first impression.

Use a lower pitch and vocal inflection.

People associate a high pitched tone with nervousness or childishness. You want to do the opposite; deliberately lower your vocal pitch. This projects both confidence and maturity.

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You also want to avoid the use of ‘uptalk’, which is a rising vocal inflection at the end of your sentences. Uptalk, combined with a high pitched tone will only amplify people’s perception of you as nervous or childish. Further, people who use uptalk are perceived as being less knowledgeable; regardless of actual content.

Be careful of using too much downward vocal inflection or ‘downtalk’, however. Overuse of this can make you come across as rude or confrontational.

Avoid Filler Words

Filler words, sometimes called vocal crutches, are words such as “ah”, “um”, “like”, “so”, “you know” and other similar phrases. And while everybody uses filler words, overusing them makes you appear to lack confidence and competence.

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To avoid using filler words, you must first be aware of your use of them. Communications expert Lisa B. Marshall suggests [3] people record themselves in conversations and listen to the recordings five minutes a day for two weeks.

It is better to substitute silence for these fillers; verbal pauses, even when overused, only serve to increase a speaker’s credibility.

Another option is to join your local Toastmasters club; every meeting has a designated ‘Ah Counter’ [4] whose job it is to record each speaker’s vocal crutches.

Speak Faster

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Not too fast, of course, or they won’t understand a word you’re saying. Nevertheless, faster speakers are perceived to be more confident, according to a study conducted at Brigham Young University.

Lisa also notes that the ideal speaking rate [5] is about 150 words per minute, which is also the recommended speed for audio books. Avoiding the use of filler words will naturally quicken your speech but you can also practice faster speech through a few reading drills.

  • Practice reading a text out loud at varying speeds: Start by reading it a normal speed, then try to slowly increase the speed on each subsequent repetition. Read it backwards for extra challenge so you won’t be pausing o take extra time to think about what you are saying out loud.
  • Use tongue twisters: Not just for children, and great for warming up before a presentation as well. If you have trouble enunciating words beginning with a certain alphabet, find tongue twisters starting with said alphabet. For instance, if you have trouble pronouncing words beginning with the letter ‘P’ then go with the classic “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/ A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked/ If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/ Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”
  • Insert words in a passage when reading out loud: Add in arbitrary prepositions such as ‘and’ or ‘the’ when reading a passage out loud. This will force you to read without thinking what it means. Further, it will also give your speech a certain rhyme and diction that translates well to other fast speaking situations. Here’s an example: the phrase “the fox jumped over the fence” can become “the and fox and jumped the over and the and fence”

Reference

[1] Sage Journals: The Sound of Intellect
[2] Harvard Business Review: The Science of Sounding Smart
[3] The New York Times: So, Um, How Do You, Like, Stop Using Filler Words?
[4] Toastmasters International: Ah-counter
[5] Lisamarshall.com: How Fast Do I Speak?

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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