How To Speak So That People Want To Listen



Julian Treasure is a sound consultant who studies sound and advises businesses on how to best use it. In the first part of his Ted Talk "How To Speak So That People Want To Listen" he discusses the content of speech.

First, these are seven bad habits we need to steer away from if we want people to listen to us. These habbits include gossip, judging, negativity (pessimism), complaining ("viral misery"), excuses (blame throwing, not taking responsibility for ones actions), lying, and dogmaticism (confusing facts with opinions).

In turn, he says we should follow a set of rules conveyed by the acronym HAIL, a word that means "to greet or aclaim enthusiastically." Honesty (be clear and straight), authenticity (stand in your own truth), integrity (be your word, do what you say, be someone people can trust), and love (wish them well).

All people must operate on a certain set of rules and principles and this is a worthy set of guidelines for the mindset we should have when approaching communication. This is espescially true if we want people to listen to us and have an affect on our surroundings. Of course, perfect honesty is not what we always want. For example telling someone they look ugly isn't always reasonable. But if we speak with love, it can temper honesty very well.

People can't look into your head and see exactly how your mind is calibrated; we can't see motives or intents. We can only see manifestations of a person's mind through their actions, words, gestures, and intonations. At the end of the day we have to settle on incomplete information and uncertainty about what is going on in someone elses' head, but this isn't cause for fear. As long as we are skeptics, we will be better equipped to listen and weigh information for ourselves. 

So while it is an important skill to be a good listener and to weigh information for itself, this post is about communicating more effectively to have a better chance of getting even the bad listeners to listen. 

It can be scary to think about, but it isn't all about what you say. It is truely about how you say it. This is arguably much more important when it comes to making people want to listen. This is because people want to be entertained, they want to be engaged, and they want to be uplifted. 

We won't discuss body language here, but to communicate well we must think of our voice performance. It is important to be aware of the toolkit we have for effective speaking in order to not lose our audience.

The first tool we have is register. We can locate our voice on a range, making it light with falcetto tone by speaking in our nose. We can speak in our throat which is the normal register for most people, or give it weight and depth by speaking in our chest. According to Treasure, "we vote for politicians with lower voices, because we associate depth of voice with power and authority." Timbre is how the voice sounds and feels, and we can change how our voice sounds through exercise. Prosody is the sing-song quality of speech, a "meta-language" we use to impart meaning. A monotone is very hard to listen too because it is monotonous, and negatively affects our ability to communicate through prosody. Then there is pace, pitch, and volume. We can speak fast, slow, and use silence for pauses; we can inflect our pitch for emphasis and meaning; and we can use volume to get loud and excited, or get quiet to force our audience to listen more carefully.

I've discussed the tools here, but to really appreciate them in action you have to watch Julian Treasure apply them (the video below is set at the point he discusses the "toolkit" or our voice).

He concludes his talk with an important question. What would the world be like if we were speaking powerfully to people who were listening conciously in environments fit for purpose? This is not a question that only business owners should consider, but a question everyone should ask themselves when designing the environment of any relationship.  

Speak conciously. Listen conciously. Strive for understanding and harmony.