There's no doubt that YouTube stars wield some serious influence, with the highest-earning performer on YouTube, PewDiePie, earning $12.5 million in 2015, according to Forbes

But before you dismiss the success of these (mostly) youngsters as just a result of good looks or luck, take note of what you can learn from them: how to get an audience to listen to you.

As The Atlantic's Julie Beck points out, "when you're just talking to a camera without much action, it takes a little more to get, and keep, that attention." Every vlogger from PewDiePie, who films himself playing video games, to beauty guru Michelle Phan needs to figure out how to keep a viewer tuned in beyond the first 30 seconds.

And that's where strategic linguistics come in--or as Beck describes it, the "bouncy" speaking style YouTubers tend to have. So she enlisted the help of American University professor of linguistics Naomi Baron to figure out what speech mannerisms successful YouTubers have in common. 

Of course, few people are going to find a following on YouTube if they are terrible public speakers--they can't mumble their way through a video. Instead, as Baron found, the most successful vloggers tend to overemphasize or stretch out their vowels and consonants. They also tend to aspirate their consonants, meaning they pronounce them in a way that induces a huff of air. (Baron told Beck to say both "keep" and "geep"--and to notice the breath of air that comes after pronouncing the letter k, which is a normally-aspirated consonant).

The result is, as Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania told The Atlantic, "an intellectual used-car-salesman voice." The speaker comes across as high energy, but without sounding too forced.

It's not an entirely new concept. Beck compares the way YouTubers speak to newscasters--they both use "talking to the audience" voices. But as video becomes an increasingly popular way to communicate with and market to an audience, the fact that even teenagers can attract millions of followers on YouTube serves as a reminder that you don't have to be a polished news anchor to get people to listen to you.

Published on: Dec 9, 2015