Don’t just concentrate on what you say, think about your vocal and visual cues. In a series of posts, Sage Business Expert Liz McLaughlin looks at how you can improve your verbal, vocal and visual communication to improve your sales and customer service.
Three elements are communicated each time we speak:
- Verbal – the message itself, the words we say.
- Vocal – the intonation, projection and resonance that carries the words.
- Visual – what listeners see, our face and body.
So many of us concentrate on the words, the verbal aspect of communication; taking time to ensure we are as articulate as we can possibly be, believing that the words we use are the most important conveyor of the message we are endeavouring to impart. At school, we are taught to focus on our vocabulary, encouraged to learn new words at every opportunity. Our ability to use flowery, descriptive language and, to write and speak in a clear, concise and engaging way is meant to set us apart from our peers and will appeal to our listeners and readers. Whilst this is certainly true to some extent, research shows that our efforts would be better directed elsewhere.
Professor Albert Mehrabian, foremost expert in personal communications, conducted landmark studies surrounding the relationships between these three elements and the differences in belief among them. His research found that the degree of consistency among the three elements is what determines the level of confidence. Ultimately, what we want when we communicate is to be understood.
So, what is your estimate of how much weight each of the elements conveys when you’re speaking to persuade a listener? Which carries the most weight? Allocate a percentage against each in order to come up with a total of 100%:
Verbal: ___________________ %
Professor Mehrabian found that when an individual’s verbal, vocal and visual elements conveyed messages that were inconsistent with one another, the verbal cues were dominant only 7% of the time, the vocal dominated 38% of the time and the visual cues were the primary carrier of trust 55% of the time!
So here we were, thinking the words we use are the most important elements in communication, when in fact they are the least powerful, being far outweighed by our vocal and visual cues. What we need to ensure, if we are to communicate effectively and engage with our listeners, is that all three elements are working together and are conveying the same message.
“I’m really happy to see you” – in order to be believed, these words need to be said in an energetic and warm tone, perhaps with emphasis on the ‘really’ and need to be visually backed up with a full and genuine smile. Without either one of the latter two, it is very clear that the words are not to be believed. More importantly still, the genuine smile is the element that is critical to belief.
The excitement and enthusiasm of the voice combine with the energy and animation of the face and body to reflect the confidence and conviction of what’s said.
When we’re nervous, awkward or under pressure, we tend to relay inconsistent messages. “I’m really excited to be here!” for example, if accompanied with a downward look, clasped hands and a haltering, tremulous voice, just won’t be believed. Voice and the delivery are all parts of a whole – a whole that must be integrated to convey a consistent message.
When presenting an idea or something you wish the listener to buy into, you need energy for the message to be taken on board. Some people have great ideas, but they lack the delivery skills (verbal, vocal and visual). Others have great delivery skills, but lack the content, the verbal.
Inconsistent messages are probably the greatest barrier to effective communication, so try to ensure your visual clues, coupled with your vocal clues, work together to support what it is you are saying.