Watch Your Tone!: Voice Inflection Tips


Have you ever listened to a sales pitch, presentation or public speaker, and lost all interest in a very short timeframe? It seems like no matter how hard you focus, you can’t seem to retain any information, or become interested in the topic at hand? Of course you have! However, most people don’t realize that it likely had nothing to do with the product being sold or the topic being presented. Most likely, the issue at hand was the speaker’s tone and voice inflection. 

Described as the modification of vocal speech patterns to express different grammatical categories such as volume, tone, pitch and/or cadence, these speech patterns are even more important when dealing with clients or potential customers over the phone. The minute you engage in phone conversation, you lose all ability to communicate in non-verbal forms that we rely on subconsciously to get our messages across.

When dealing with customers on the phone, whether in a sales scenario or a follow-up with an existing client, voice inflection can be a major factor in how you and your message come across. A few examples:

  • Sounding monotone and/or flat can make you seem bored and uninterested in the product or your customer.
  • Having a slow cadence can make you seem depressed or unenthusiastic.
  • Ending tones in a high pitch (I call these up-tones) can make you seem unconfident, or unsure of yourself or what you’re offering to the customer.

By changing your tones and cadence, you appear engaged, excited and interested. Ending tones in a low pitch (I call these down-tones) can give your customer the impression that you’re authoritative on a subject, or that you’re confident in your offer or ability to help solve problems.

One main way that you can practice avoiding sounding monotone is to smile while you are speaking with a potential customer on the phone. By smiling, you will subconsciously be speaking in manner that encourages tonal fluctuations. It’s almost impossible to genuinely smile and sound genuinely bored at the same time!

As for using down tones, this is a fantastic way to take control of conversations, gain the confidence of the potential customer and appear authoritative on what you’re talking about—attributes that any sales person knows are crucial when trying to set a sales appointment or close a sale. No potential customer will ever want to move forward with a person or company that doesn’t seem confident or authoritative on the subject or product they are selling/promoting. 

The biggest two issues I hear from men are up-tones and “ums.” Breaks and pauses are one thing, because they can be uses for dramatic effect or to extenuate a specific word or point being made. However if these “ums” and “uhs” are being subconsciously used as filler, it can come across that the person is unsure or unconfident. In the corporate world that can be poison. It’s not just dealing with customers, but also dealing with your boss or co-workers.

Women are lucky enough to have the exception to the rule. Women are actually better off ending sentences in up tones in a service-based industry such as being a customer service representative, retail worker, etc. However, if a woman is in the business world, sales, management, etc., then she ought to use down tones as much as possible. It conveys being authoritative or being in control.

In closing (no pun intended), be conscious of how you sound on the other end of the phone. Even if tonal changes don’t come naturally, it’s something everyone should work on for their dealings with customers. When all you have to get your point across is your voice, make sure you make the most of it!


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