The Best Way To Change People’s Minds

How to use the way you talk to persuade others.

How to use the way you talk to persuade others.

Talking moderately fast, pausing frequently and not being too animated are the keys to persuasive speech, researchers find.

The study found that speaking at about 3.5 words per second was the most persuasive speech rate.

Really fast talkers make people feel there is some sort of trick, while talking slowly gives a dull impression.

At the same time, talking too fluently puts people off, the research also found.

Pausing naturally once every 10 seconds or so is best.

More pauses than that and the person sound disfluent, and so less persuasive.

The conclusions come from a study of 1,380 introductory calls made by 100 telephone interviewers.

They were trying to convince people to take part in a survey.

Dr Jose Benki, a study co-author, explained the results:

“Interviewers who spoke moderately fast, at a rate of about 3.5 words per second, were much more successful at getting people to agree than either interviewers who talked very fast or very slowly.”

Varying the pitch had little effect on persuasion, Dr Benki said:

“We assumed that interviewers who sounded animated and lively, with a lot of variation in the pitch of their voices, would be more successful.

But in fact we found only a marginal effect of variation in pitch by interviewers on success rates.

It could be that variation in pitch could be helpful for some interviewers but for others, too much pitch variation sounds artificial, like people are trying too hard.

So it backfires and puts people off.”

Men with deep voices tended to be more persuasive, but voice pitch did not affect how well female interviewers did.

The findings about pauses were fascinating.

Dr Benki explained that pausing too much was better than not pausing at all:

“When people are speaking, they naturally pause about 4 or 5 times a minute.

These pauses might be silent, or filled, but that rate seems to sound the most natural in this context.

If interviewers made no pauses at all, they had the lowest success rates getting people to agree to do the survey.

We think that’s because they sound too scripted.

People who pause too much are seen as disfluent.

But it was interesting that even the most disfluent interviewers had higher success rates than those who were perfectly fluent.”

The study was published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Conrad et al., 2012).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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