7%, 38%, 55%. That's the ratio that everyone quotes when it comes to the importance of body language. It's from a study by Albert Mehrabrian, and says that only 7% of communication relies on the words we choose. The other 93% is conveyed in 'non-verbal' cues: 38% in the tone of your voice and 55% in your 'body language'.
In our cerebral, email-focused workplaces, much of the role of face-to-face contact has been usurped the written word. No longer do we have to pop in to someone else's office to relay a meeting change. For efficiency's sake, this is all the better - but it means that we are over-prioritising the 7% in relation to the 93%. So much of our day is spent choosing words for emails that we think that choosing words is the only important factor in strong communication.
This could not be more wrong - your voice and body are crucial, and not paying attention to them can have dire consequences.
1. Job Interviews
Nervousness is a clever emotion. However you try to hide it, it trickles out eventually. First of all, your voice gets constricted and tight, then your body language goes negative (protective gestures: crossing your arms/legs, touching your neck), and finally your words trickle to a stop. Eek.
The crucial thing to remember here is that the audience's body mirrors the speaker's. When your voice gets constricted, their voice feels a little itchy; when your body language goes protective, so does theirs; when you are lost for words, so are they.
So learn to relax - the more relaxed you are in an interview (especially using Amy Cuddy's excellent power-pose advice), the more relaxed the interviewer will feel. Your zen-like calm will make them feel great about themselves - and they'll want to hire you.
Connecting to people is difficult. In a crowded room with clinking glasses and high-powered people all around, it can be next-to-impossible. The important thing is to strike a balance between two opposite conversational poles: 'receiving', and 'responding'.
Too much 'receiving' - i.e. listening too long and not providing your own input - will make you seem passive, over-obedient, or even sycophantic. But too much 'responding' - pushing your agenda and your ideas - will make you seem uncaring, careerist, or vain.
Walking that line is crucial, seeing the other person's rhythm and when you want to step in. All of this happens at a level above the 7% word-choice zone, so learn to pick up on where people are on this receiving-responding spectrum.
Mumblers don't get their ideas heard. It's as simple as that. If you're struggling getting the words out as you speak, people are often paying more attention to you than to your message. They'll spend their whole time thinking "oh, I wish they'd get that 'r' sorted out" rather than giving your idea their consideration.
Get a vocal coach or an actor (preferably one trained in 'Received Pronunciation') to listen to your voice, and tell you what consonant/vowel sounds you need work on. Get your voice ship-shape and the idea will flow out easily.
Everyone has that friend with the high, airy, fluty voice. Often they're quite cheerful, great fun to be around. But that voice can be doing them more harm than good in their careers.
High voices express timidity, vulnerability - a desire to take up as little audible space as possible. This polite timidity is endearing, but does not invite confidence in their competency.
A monotonous voice can kill a presentation. The most insightful things can be weighed down and sunk by a monotonous voice. It makes everything unclear, because it colours every idea with the same drab grey.
But flip that around and you get the simple answer. A voice with great differentiation makes ideas clear, because it colours them in with high and low pitch, fast and slow pacing, and the right injections of passion.
If you're worried about being a monotonous person, try using one of these ideas. Use more pitch range in your speech. Try making some parts faster and some slower. Try imbuing some passion into your speech to bring it into the light. Don't allow us to mirror the monotonous, over-thinking part of you. We want to see your voice in colour.