Do people talk over you in meetings? Are you interrupted when you speak? Did you ever consider that the fault might be yours?
It’s frustrating, isn’t it? You have an important point to make but can never get a word in edgeways. Or, when you finally get a chance to speak, you’ve barely said two words before people start talking over the top of you.
Yes. You could know or work with some incredibly rude people. Or you could have nothing interesting to say. But if people repeatedly don’t listen to you and/or interrupt you when you speak, the problem might not be them. It might not even be what you’re saying but how you’re saying it.
If you don’t have time to read the whole article, scoot down to the end and read my five tips on how to stop people interrupting you when you speak.
In my job as a communication skills trainer, there’s hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear someone trying to make a point with little or no confidence in what they’re saying.
Not only are their voices barely audible but the tone is flat, veering upwards in Australian Questioning Intonation (AQI) or, worse still, trailing off altogether as if they can’t be bothered to finish their sentences.
Think about it. If we can’t be bothered to finish our sentences, why should anyone be bothered to listen to us?
If we want to make our voices as strong as our words, we need to focus on four important areas:
Getting the right volume
There are some people – some incredibly confident, powerful people – who have mastered the art of talking in a quiet voice but still commanding attention.
They combine the quiet voice with strong body language and almost frightening eye contact (think ‘gangster’) and the end result is a ‘quiet confidence’ that’s even more powerful than a big voice.
However, for most of us, talking quietly will simply get us ignored.
To make sure you’re not interrupted half-way through your big speech, keep your voice just above ‘normal conversational level’, which is about 60 decibels (dB). Push it up to 65 dB and you’ll sound confident without being overpowering.
Pitching our voices appropriately
Sadly, we tend to feel more comfortable in the presence of someone with a deep, rich ‘adult’ voice. (Think Morgan Freeman.) Not good news for people (often young women) with gentle, high pitched voices that make them sound more childlike.
You can, however, train yourself to lower the natural pitch of your voice, but you need to work hard at it. The alternative is to up the other confident non-verbal signals – good eye contact, strong body language, increased volume, slow pace and downward inflection.
Focusing on downward inflection
It would appear (thank goodness) that AQI is less popular than it was a few years ago.
The upward inflection at the end of sentences (usually from the larynx of under 25-year-olds) gives the listener the impression that the speaker isn’t 100% certain of what they were saying.
Try it yourself. Say the following sentences first with an upward then with a downward inflection.
- This is an example of our best work.
- I’d like a cup of coffee.
- You are making me feel uncomfortable.
Notice the difference?
To give your words the air of confidence they need for people to stop what they’re doing and listen to you, use a downward inflection at the end of your sentences.
The parabola trick
When you speak, imagine your voice is travelling along a parabola. (If you did maths or physics at school, you might be familiar with the parabola – a curve where any point is at an equal distance from a fixed point.)
Start with a strong, deep tone and comfortable volume. Lift the pitch of your voice in the middle of your sentence to give it a sense of excitement then, at the end of the sentence, return to exactly the same pitch, volume and strength that you started with.
If you let your voice rise or trail off at the end of your sentences, you give the listener the impression that you’re not sure or don’t care.
Take a slow approach
While talking quickly can give your voice a sense of excitement, it can also make you sound nervous, untruthful and incoherent.
Pace your voice at a steady 120 to 140 words per minute. (Most people talk at more than 180 words per minute – teenagers as fast as 280 words per minute.) At this slower speed, you not only give your listener a chance to take in what you’ve said, you give them the impression that you value what you’re saying.
Talking quickly, on the other hand, implies that you’re not confident in your words and you want to get your point over with. It also makes it hard for your listener to catch what you’re saying.
But even if you don’t stumble over words and get tongue-tied, the person listening to you will need to concentrate harder. This will invariably make them tune out, give up or interrupt you.
And there you have it. Volume. Pitch. Inflection. Pace.
5 final tips for getting people to listen to you
- Slow down. Hold the floor. But don’t take so long between words and sentences that people zone out.
- Enunciate like a news reader. Make every syllable, vowel and consonant crisp and clear. You might feel daft, but you won’t sound it.
- Drop the pitch, not the volume at end of your sentences. Make ends as strong as beginnings. Don’t let your words trail away.
- Look at people when you talk to them but don’t scare them off with a permanent stare. Take it turn to look at everyone in the group for a couple of seconds, long enough to make eye contact.
- Talk a little louder (only a little) than your normal conversational voice to get attention, drop it down when you have attention, then bring it up again if you sense you’re losing people.