At some point, each of us needs to convince another person of an idea. My company will change the world; please invest. I'll be great for this position; hire me. I think I'm in love with you; give me a shot.
But before we can convince, the other party has to listen. In a world that's full of noise, it's easy for our message to get drowned out. How do we speak so that others want to listen?
Julian Treasure is a sound expert who works advising businesses on how to do just that. In a 10 minute TED talk he delivered back in 2013, he broke down what makes others want to listen, what makes them tune out, and how to build a useful toolbox to help you communicate your message effectively.
I've quoted, summarized, and added my own comments below.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking
Treasure begins by outlining the common habits that will push your audience away:
"Speaking ill of somebody who's not present. Not a nice habit, and we know perfectly well the person gossiping, five minutes later, will be gossiping about us."
Negative gossip quickly slips into slander, a dangerous and destructive habit. As Eleanor Roosevelt splendidly put it: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."
"...it's very hard to listen to somebody if you know that you're being judged and found wanting at the same time."
Society has fostered a culture of judgment. Just look at the comments following any controversial news article, where dozens (or hundreds) have launched ad-hominem attacks on those with opinions that differ from theirs.
Remember: There is always more to the story.
"My mother, in the last years of her life, became very negative, and it's hard to listen. I remember one day, I said to her, 'It's October 1 today,' and she said, 'I know, isn't it dreadful?'"
If you thrive on spewing out negativity, you'll find others gradually running away.
Treasure, who is British, admits:
"Well, this is the national art of the U.K. It's our national sport. We complain about the weather, sport, about politics, about everything, but actually, complaining is viral misery. It's not spreading sunshine and lightness in the world."
It's not just the U.K., Mr. Treasure.
"We've all met this guy. Maybe we've all been this guy. Some people have a blamethrower. They just pass it on to everybody else and don't take responsibility for their actions."
Excuses don't really help anyone, certainly not ourselves. If you've made a mistake, the quickest way to get someone to listen is to begin with, "I'm sorry. I'd like to make this right."
"[Exaggeration] demeans our language...For example, if I see something that really is awesome, what do I call it? And then, of course, this exaggeration becomes lying, and we don't want to listen to people we know are lying to us."
Speaking on a platform only magnifies the consequences of exaggeration. (See: Brian Williams.)
"The confusion of facts with opinions. When those two things get conflated, you're listening into the wind."
When you're dogmatic, you shut out qualities such as reason and open-mindedness. This only turns listeners away.
The Foundation of Good Speaking
Next, Treasure goes on to share four powerful cornerstones on which to build our speaking. Together, they form the acronym "HAIL", which is fittingly defined as "to greet or acclaim enthusiastically," which, as Treasure asserts, "is how...our words will be received if we stand on these four things."
Honesty: Be true, straight and clear in what you say.
Authenticity: Be yourself.
Integrity: Be your word. Do what you say. Be someone you can trust.
Love: Wish others well.
It's extremely hard to ignore a message that follows these four principles.
But it's not just what you say; it's also how you say it. And to help in this regard, Treasure identifies the basic speaking toolbox that most of us possess:
Our vocal register is the range of tones our voice produces. We normally speak from the throat, but if you want to speak with power or authority, you need to speak from the chest. (Treasure illustrates this well with his own voice beginning at the 4:41 mark.)
Timbre describes the distinguishing characteristics of a sound; for example, the difference between a guitar and a piano playing the same note. If you're not happy with the sound of your voice, you can actually change it to an extent, with breathing technique, posture, and exercise.
Treasure describes prosody as 'the sing-song that we use to impart meaning'. It includes qualities like modulation and intonation, and is why we don't enjoy listening to someone who speaks in a monotone.
If we speak more quickly, we indicate excitement. If we want to really emphasize a point, we slow down.
And don't underestimate the value of silence: A perfectly timed pause can allow your audience or partner to keep up or ponder a point.
Changing pitch changes meaning. (See 6:42 for a great example.)
Carefully and thoughtfully raising the voice can get attention and build excitement. Lowering the voice, at times to a whisper, can get your partner to pay closer attention.
Treasure compares your voice to an engine that needs to be warmed up. (Just think about how you sound when you first wake up in the morning.) He concludes his talk with a series of six exercises designed to warm up your voice. (They begin at the 7:46 mark.)
Warning: If someone walks in at this point, they might think you're watching a mystifying cult and its leader. But believe me, these exercises help.
Putting It All Together
Today's world makes it more difficult than ever to stand out. Practice these principles and methods, and others will naturally be drawn to you--and your message.