How Our Voice Affects How Others Listen to Us

You have heard it before: It’s not what you say but HOW you say it that can keep your listener’s interest. Within minutes people decide whether they want to listen to us based primarily by the sound of our voice. 57% of first impressions are based on how we look and carry ourselves, 7% counts for the words, but 38% counts for the quality of our voice.

On the telephone, without visual cues, it is as much as 97% of that impression that is determined by tone quality. In essence, when we open our mouth we either confirm or negate the first visual impression.

What is it about the voice that either attracts us as a listener or distracts us to the point of tuning out? As someone speaking, what do we have to do with our voice to motivate, captivate, and be an outstanding communicator? What kind of impact does our voice have on the ears of listeners?

Let us take a look at the undesirable voice. According to Marlena Reigh, “Undesirable qualities of the voice are those that are distracting to the listener so that the message is not being heard in its entirety, or conclusions/reactions are evoked so that communications are blocked. An undesirable voice is fertile ground for misunderstandings, mistakes, and turning business deals sour, causing arguments, and creating unintentional stumbling blocks.”

One of the first things to understand is that voice is a physical experience for both speaker and listener. The body reacts and/or entrains to the sound of the voice. For instance, those annoyed

by loud voices are reacting to the sound that is invading their space. The body reacts with the fight or flight reaction. In the same manner, a pleasant sounding voice can relax the body, and breathing will become more relaxed. Like a piece of music, the body responds to the volume and rhythm of the voice that is being listened to.

Through twenty years of working with over 1,500 voices, Marlena Reigh states that when attendees at workshops are asked what voices turn them off, the most popular answers are:

Whiney, too high pitched, monotone, too loud, mumbled, too fast, phony, sarcastic, and boring.

On the other hand, when these same people were asked the question, “What kind of voice attracts you?” the frequent answers are: Clear, confident, friendly, resonant, enthusiastic, and sincere.

In this following Gallup Poll we can see how distracting voices can be.

These are percentages of those polled. (From all over the US, ages 18 to senior citizens, in all levels of education and income).

GALLUP POLL   of those most annoying voice habits out of 100 people


  1. Mumbling or talking too softly     80
  2. Talking too loudly     73
  3. Monotonous, boring voice     73
  4. Talking too fast     66
  5. A nasal whine     69
  6. A high pitched voice     61
  7. A foreign accent/regional dialect      24

Some definitions:

Monotone: The voice stays close to modal level (around 4th tone on a musical scale) all the time, and the pattern is unrelated to the meaning of what is being said.

Boring or apathetic: A voice with narrow pitch range using only one or two musical tones.

Intonation: The way one changes the pitch level of certain words for meaning.

People judge our personality based by the sound quality of our voice. Listener’s can judge the quality, speed, resonance, clarity, articulation, and range as either positive or negative. . If the “personality” does not match the person speaking or the listener’s need for listening, then a distraction has occurred and listening abandoned. There needs to be a trust in the voice that one hears that will warrant the energy worth the listen.

Think about the movies and how a character will be linked with a certain voice personality. When you hear a voice over the phone or on the radio you have a tendency to create a mental picture of what that person looks like. It is always interesting to finally see or meet that person and find they look nothing like their voice.


The voice in business is especially important when doing presentations. There are more complaints about presentations being boring when they should be inspiring to the point of listeners wanting to take action. Effective speaking can energize the speaker and their audience. It can increase the listener’s interest and attention span. Vocal techniques like using speaking volume and speed can emphasize and draw attention to important points in the presentation. This will enhance the audience’s interest and retention to the ideas and information you’re conveying.


The voice reveals one’s physical and emotional states and attitudes and has emotional and mental impact on the listeners as well. If one does not feel good physically, if they are unhappy or angry their voice shows it involuntarily. People can hear these states in the way one speaks which can cause them to draw conclusions and perhaps keep them from that promotion or that sale they have worked hard on getting.


The most interesting and attractive sounding speaker uses their voice as an instrument.

What do we need to do to develop a voice others WANT to listen to? Like in a piece of music, variety in speed, volume and range adds physical, emotional, and intellectual interest.

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