Your Voice Matters – An Interview with Dr. Nick Epley

When was the last time you sent an email, or a text, rather than making a phone call.  Chances are, it was within the last 24 hours. It is often easier, takes less time and takes less energy.  It is also less effective.  Our voices matter, and make an impact on how our message is received.  It can impact who gets hired, and who doesn’t.  But don’t take my word for it.

Dr. Nick Epley  is the John T. Keller Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  He is regularly recognized as a leading behavioral scientist/psychologist and his research will help you not only better understand other people, but will improve your understanding of how your own mind works.

While sending written communication is often easier, more convenient or allows for more personal (or comfortable) expression for the person delivering information, it is not always optimal.  Much can get “lost in translation” when there is no voice.  Think of the number of times you read something and inferred something from the written message that would have been avoided had you picked up the phone.  The human voice is an amazing gift.

Dr. Epley’s latest study “The Sound of Intellect” illustrates just how important one’s voice is. The entire study is available at the conclusion of this article.  Here is a  summary of Dr. Epley’s findings:

A person’s mental capacities, such as intellect, cannot be observed directly and so are instead inferred from indirect cues. We predicted that a person’s intellect would be conveyed most strongly through a cue closely tied to actual thinking: his or her voice. Hypothetical employers (Experiments 1-3b) and professional recruiters (Experiment 4) watched, listened, or read job candidates’ pitches about why they should be hired. Evaluators rated the candidates as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard the pitch than when they read it and, as a result, liked the candidate more and were more interested in hiring the candidate. Adding voice to written pitches, by having trained actors (Experiment 3a) or untrained adults (Experiment 3b) read them, replicated these results. Adding visual cues through video did not influence evaluations beyond the candidate’s voice. When conveying one’s intellect, it is important for one’s voice, quite literally, to be heard.

There are a lot of gems in this study as it pertains to communication, but if I were to just list one, it would be summed up in three words.  Your voice matters.

I spoke to Dr. Epley about this study, and here are his answers to a number of questions that can benefit leaders in every industry:

1). How can CEOs and other organizational leaders most effectively utilize this research?

Our data suggest that the medium through which people communicate has a specific effect on how you’re viewed by others.  If you want your presence of mind to be recognized—the degree to which you’ve thought hard about a problem, can empathize with someone’s circumstance, or have carefully analyzed an issue—then it’s essential for your voice, very literally to be heard.  Stripping out your voice and relying on text makes it easier for others to rely on their stereotypes about you when forming impressions.  So much of modern communication happens through our fingers.  Maintaining voice time is critical.

2) You distinguish between contents and capacity – how would a potential employer define capacity, and what would he or she be “listening” for, based on what you observed?

We refer to mental capacity, and it’s simply in our data a judgment about how intelligent, thoughtful, and mentally competent you are.  This is a judgment about how well you are able to think, not a judgment about what you happen to be thinking.  Our data do not indicate what specific semantic content people are paying attention to.  It shows that paralinguistic cues in the voice has an effect on how intellectually capable you are perceived to be.  Additional evidence we have suggests that pitch variance is an important cue (intonation in your voice), but other cues such as pauses and volume seem important as well.  These cues all suggest you’ve got a lively mind, and that seems important for these judgments.

3) In your earlier work you delivered brilliant analysis about, among many other things, our ability to interpret others.  How does your latest study tie in?

It provides more evidence about the importance of a person’s voice for communicating their mind.  A person’s mind comes through their mouth, more so than the words typed through their fingers.

4) What was your biggest surprise when conducting this study?

That our professional recruiters, who interview our MBA students for a living, were affected by the presence or absence of a candidates voice every bit as much as people who imagined being recruiters (but were not selected based on this job).  In fact, our professional recruiters actually showed effects that were bigger than our other participants.  

Dr. Epley is the author of one of my personal favorite tomes in behavioral science, Mindwise.  If you are a student of the human interaction (and we all are) or are just interested in learning more about your most valuable possession (your mind) it is a must read.

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Public Speaking Expert: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The next legend in a series on public speaking experts is one of the greatest orators ever, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a legendary orator.   We are lucky enough to have video clips of Dr. King to view, study and learn from.

Dr. King inspired, and continues to inspire people with the power of his speech and the power of his actions. His speeches should be staples on playlists and iPods as his speeches are inspirational even on dark days. He is unquestionably a public speaking expert.

This clip is the conclusion of Dr. King’s final speech, given at Mason Temple in Memphis on April 3rd — he was assassinated the next day.

Listen carefully to the language and word choice. He was speaking in support of the striking sanitation workers in Memphis.  The sheer energy that this clip contains is unbelievable. One can feel the power through the short clip on Youtube — imagine the energy that must have been in the room that day in Memphis!

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The 17 minute address is an amazing oratorical display. Here are 7 lessons:

1. Cadence – Dr. King control of cadence is simply amazing; no words are lost and key pauses exist throughout the entire address. Cadence is so important to every presenter- one technique to learn cadence that I employ often – read great speeches along with the soundtrack of the person delivering it.

2. Rhythm – Great speeches have great cadence, and great rhythm.  This speech had both.

3. Inflection – There is no question at any point in this speech which words are stressed; there should be no confusion in the audience with regard to the point you are trying to make.

4. Eye Contact – Dr. King reads quite a bit of the speech, but when he reaches this crucial section, his eyes never wander – they look right at the 200,000 people watching him

5. Rhetorical Tools – Dr. King’s use of Anaphora – repeating of a sequence of words at the beginning of sentences, or clauses to add emphasis – “I have a dream…; I have a dream…”; another great example – Churchill’s “We Shall Fight” speech.  Anaphora is one example of what are countless valuable rhetorical devices available to all presenters.

6. Passion – Is there any question Dr. King felt every single word as he delivered it?  While your presentation may not be on a subject as important to you, there needs to be something that you feel strongly about in or around the subject matter – find it.

7. Practice – It is rumored that Dr. King went off script at the end of this address, however it is also rumored he practiced the vast majority of this address extensively prior to delivering it.  Chances are, you are probably not as oratorically gifted as MLK; if he had to practice, you have to practice.

Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



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Public Speaking for Entrepreneurs – 3 Tips for a Successful Pitch

Public speaking for entrepreneurs?  Absolutely!  The reality is that a presentation, a pitch or “casual” conversations about your company all qualify as examples of public speaking.  When I ask entrepreneurs about public speaking, I often hear “I don’t have to give speeches.”

There are 3 universal ideas every entrepreneur should remember while pitching their startup:

1) You are Presenting for Your Audience, not Yourself

It doesn’t matter if you’re presenting before a group of angel investors or on the floor of a private equity investor’s boardroom — your presentation is not about you, it’s about the people you are presenting to.  Think about what matters to them, rather than what matters to you.

2) Focus Your Pitch

What are you trying to accomplish? What are you asking for? Gaining the interest/investment of equity groups?  Looking for capital?  Watch one of the myriad programs targeted at entrepreneurs (think Shark Tank) to get ideas of what focus does (or does not) look like.  Far too many presentations have no focus, fail to answer the central questions, and receive an undesired response.  Wonder why?

3) Reading Verbatim IS NOT Fundamental

There is one situation where reading is not fundamental, and that is when you are presenting. When you read verbatim, you show the audience that you display very little, if any, ownership of the words written. This makes connecting with the audience almost impossible.

Invest the time in practice and preparation. Even the best ideas fall flat if they cannot be communicated effectively.

It is understandable that you are nervous, have a lot of information to convey, and have written it down in order to ensure that you are able to introduce every concept you feel is necessary. But reading directly off of a script, or even worse, a PPT will not allow potential investors to see how passionate and confident you are about your company, your fund, or your idea.

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Public Speaking Experts – Demosthenes

Public speaking expert is a title that carries tremendous weight.  Demosthenes, public speaking expert of the 4th century BC, is one of the legendary Greek orators. Some of his most famous (and my favorite) addresses of his relate to his opposition to King Phillip II of Macedon. Although he passed away in 322 BC, Demosthenes is relevant to 21st century orators because of his dedication to practice and preparation.

Demosthenes’ dream was to be a great orator, but he had speech impediments.  He was ridiculed early and often for his deficiencies, but he never quit.   Here are just a few of the things he is rumored to have done to attain his goal:

Corrected his defective elocution by speaking with pebbles in his mouth.

Prepared himself to overcome noise by speaking in stormy weather on the seashore.

Recited verses while running to improve his breathing and cadence.

Passed two or three months in an underground cave, practicing his oratory. While there, he would shave half of his head to prevent himself from leaving the cave.

Hung a sword just above shoulder level, so that when his shoulder rose to create an awkward physical posture, the sword would prick him, triggering him to lower it.

While I would never advocate living in a cave or practicing with pebbles in your mouth to improve oratorical skill, there are modern equivalents of Demosthenes’ methods that everyone can use to improve.  Here are a few:

1) Write it Out – I always write out every speech I will deliver.  I then edit it and re-write it.  I do this four of five times. It is at this point that I begin the process of shortening the speech to bullet points, then shortening the bullet points until there is nothing left to eliminate. All that’s left are key words and key phrases. You don’t have to confine yourself in a cave to do this! Find a quiet place and just write.

2) Videotape yourself – I have a studio that I use, although before I used my garage.  Set up a video camera, adjust the settings, and begin.  This is an extremely effective way to get a feel for not only messaging and verbal delivery, but also paralanguage, expressions, and gestures. No need for a hanging sword.

3) Record Your Voice – I often complement the use of a video camera with the use of a Dictaphone so that I can focus entirely on my verbal delivery. This way, you can improve your verbal fluency without putting pebbles in your mouth.

4) Practice in Front of People – In addition to solitary preparation, it’s essential to practice in front of an actual person. My wife is my biggest fan and sharpest critic.  For nine years I have practiced every speech or presentation I have ever delivered in front of her multiple times, and she always gives me very astute commentary.  This works with co-workers, siblings, and anyone else who you trust and whose opinion you respect.

5) Exercise and Deliver – This is a Demosthenes method that still works to this day.   I often run a few 100-yard sprints, and then immediately retreat to my garage, winded, to practice and get my posture and breathing right (breathing from the diaphragm.)  You do not have to run sprints – any exercise that gets your heart rate up and adrenaline pumping can subtly mimic what your body feels when beginning an address.

What lengths would you go to in order to become a master orator, or to take your public speaking to the next level? The point of highlighting Demosthenes in this post is not to drive one to try anything potentially dangerous to improve presentation skills; it’s to drive home the point that the majority of those who are considered to be public speaking experts worked very, very hard to get there.

Remember that the next time a presentation is coming up and the urge to just “wing it” arrives.

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Rock Your Next Interview: Dallas to Dubai

First, public speaking in Dallas is as important as public speaking in Dubai or public speaking in Djibouti. Location doesn’t matter. Interviews are a given in life, interviews certainly qualify as public speaking events, and how you communicate in that interview is crucial.  Whether interviewing or speaking in Dallas or Dubai, or anywhere else in the world, every person is going to have an interview.

You are often the preeminent expert in the topic of the interview – YOU!  There is no one on the planet that knows you better than you know yourself.  That does not mean you don’t need to prepare.   It means you actually need to prepare more – you know yourself better than anyone, and that means you know every extraneous detail while forgetting other important ones.  Preparation is key.  There is no replacement.


What else can you do to prepare more effectively? We have you covered.  From the days leading up to the interview, to minutes before the interview, to the interview and the days following, this graphic will help guide you through the interview process. For more information, please contact Princeton Public Speaking, headquartered in Princeton, NJ with offices in Dallas and other locations.

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Conducting More Effective Meetings: 8 Steps

For more information, please see this article from USA Today

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”
– Dave Barry

We all attend them, participate in them, and to varying degrees, loathe them. The meeting. One study estimates that executives spend close to ½ of their time, during working hours, in meetings. Numerous studies, with varying results, estimate over 10 million meetings occur – each day.

A decade old University of Arizona/University of Tulsa study found estimates of meeting expenses range from costs of $30 million to over $100 million a year – a decade ago! Meetings can be an organizational “silent killer” as you are literally losing money while ruining morale. If an organization found a project that was continuously losing money, leading nowhere and causing top flight employees to leave, what do you think it might do?

I have worked with countless senior executives whom have meetings scheduled every hour, on the hour. No time to return phone calls. Or use the facilities. Or think. When I ask when the executives actually do the work, the answer is always the same – at night.

If you are in meetings all day, an organization doesn’t just lose productivity, employee satisfaction and a boatload of money. It loses groundbreaking ideas, new concepts and new approaches to handle a dynamic marketplace. In other words, it doesn’t just cost thousands today; it will cost many more thousands tomorrow.

Here are steps you can take today to save a lot of money:

  1. Set an Agenda – Not just an agenda stating what is going to be discussed. An agenda should also have a…
  2. Clear Call to Action – What is the purpose of the meeting and what should be accomplished? What does success look like? A document? A decision? An agreement? Even if you don’t achieve every objective, have clear objectives laid out, in writing, and discuss where you are with each before the meeting ends.
  3. Clear expectations for every employee – Who is responsible for what, both before the meeting begins and when it wraps up? Who is responsible for following up? Articulate this out loud – assumptions are a dangerous game.
  4. Pre-meeting homework – I have sat through hundreds of meetings at myriad organizations, and invariably a few people come un-prepared. A defined agenda with clear goals, defined assignments and a clear call to action get people thinking before they enter the room. (Hint – you want this).
  5. Hard start and end times – all meetings can get off track – a lack of preparation and clearly defined goals guarantees this will happen, which will lead to…. another meeting.
  6. Break the cycle – have two less formal meetings a week, and see what happens. Give defined assignments and give people a bit more time to accomplish them, rather than just scurrying to create a last minute work product in their “free time.”
  7. Film a few – sounds tedious, and you certainly don’t want to film every meeting, but if you lead over 25 meetings a year, the one hour investment of watching the tape will show you where meetings go off track, and where you lose time.
  8. Communication Training – If you were paying each employee by the hour, meetings would be a lot more concise. It is critical that every member of your team knows how to a) put together a message and b) deliver that message accurately, concisely and clearly.

Time is a precious commodity, and it is crucial that employees can convey and articulate concepts, arguments and facts succinctly and quickly. Senior executives simply don’t have time for an employee to take twenty minutes to make a point that could be made in two.

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