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.
In a study  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.
The reason behind this finding is attributed  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.
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.
To avoid using filler words, you must first be aware of your use of them. Communications expert Lisa B. Marshall suggests  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’  whose job it is to record each speaker’s vocal crutches.
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  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”
|Sage Journals: The Sound of Intellect
|Harvard Business Review: The Science of Sounding Smart
|The New York Times: So, Um, How Do You, Like, Stop Using Filler Words?
|Toastmasters International: Ah-counter
|Lisamarshall.com: How Fast Do I Speak?