Use Your Voice as a Sales Tool

September 1, 1997

Who left a more memorable impression--George Bush or Ronald Reagan?

If you said Reagan, that's not surprising.

"The voice leaves a far more lasting impression than does your physical image," says June Johnson. "As a real estate professional, how you use your voice is so important because you have to use it to persuade--the way Reagan did in speeches. It's your single most important tool."

Johnson, president of Milwaukee, Wis.-based Voice Power, does voice coaching and workshops to teach people to become more effective speakers.

"You can be dressed in a terrible outfit, but if you speak well, it's what people will remember. The reverse is true, too. You've seen beautifully dressed people who have the most awful voice in the world, and that's what you remember."

You can learn what to avoid and what to aspire to by listening to well-known speakers. Here's what Johnson says about some politicians.

George Bush: He often ended sentences as though they were questions. It's one reason he had the image of a wimp. Johnson says, "What he was really doing was asking, 'Don't you agree with me?' "

Bob Dole: He spoke at a low pitch, and his voice lacked inflection. The voice has a range of about five to seven tones, and to sound interesting, you have to use those tones and let the voice rise and fall. Dole rambled and sounded uninterested in what he was saying.

Al Gore: He's very boring because he has many gaps in his sentences. You can't pause between words that belong together. You should pause only at the end of an idea or a thought unless it's for a dramatic purpose or a specific reason.

Ronald Reagan: He was trained to speak as an actor, and his voice had a lot of resonance and warmth. He knew how to use words and word stress to persuade you. He almost caressed you with his voice.

Be Your Own Coach

If you're not ready to hire a voice coach, do a self-assessment, says Milwaukee voice power teacher June Johnson. She suggests putting a tape recorder next to your phone so that you can review what you've said and how you've said it. "Most people don't realize how they come across," she says. "How other people hear you isn't necessarily how you hear yourself in a conversation."

Here are six ways you can become a more effective speaker:

  1. Speak slowly and articulate what you have to say, particularly if you're leaving a voice mail message.
  2. Use inflection and keep energy in your voice.
  3. Effective communication also involves responding appropriately to those you're speaking to. Listen to what others say and use body language--like a nod or a slight movement of your hand--to indicate you're paying attention.
  4. Rid your language of garbage words--umm, err, ah, andya know.
  5. Don't end your sentences as though they're questions. It gives the impression that you're not sure of what you're saying.
  6. Maintain energy through the end of your sentences. "Lots of people figure you know what they're going to say, so their last words fade away, and the last one seems to drop off," comments Johnson.

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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