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

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

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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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