The Sweet Sounds of Success

By Lain Ehmann

The first time you heard yourself speak on a tape recorder or through your voice mail system, your response was probably: Do I really sound like that? “Yes, you do,” says Art Sobczak of Business By Phone Inc. “The tape is brutally honest. What people hear when they’re speaking is not what other people hear.”

No matter how disconcerting that initial experience was, Sobczak recommends salespeople regularly tape themselves to hear how they sound to others. “On a regular basis, everyone should tape record themselves when they’re on the telephone. That, more than anything, will give sales reps a sense of what other people are hearing,” he says.

You might wonder if how you sound is really that big a deal. Yes, says Sobczak. On the telephone your silk tie or polished shoes don’t mean a thing. Everything’s about how you sound. “You have five to 10 seconds to make an impression that will generate positive interest. If someone forms a negative impression of you, you’re dead in the water,” he says.

So pull out the tape recorder and grit your teeth. When you review your tape, listen for the following.

Volume. Are you too loud or too soft?

Pacing. You want to avoid a too-fast or too-slow speaking speed, and you want to match the other person’s pace, says Sobczak.

Tone. Do you speak in a monotone or vary your pitch? While you don’t want to speak in that phony radio announcer voice, most people err in the opposite direction by not using enough inflection.

Filler words. Do you pepper pauses with uhs or ers? There’s nothing wrong with a bit of silence, says Sobczak. If you’re flinging filler words around you’re distracting your listener from your message, he adds.

Using words inappropriately. Do you, like, sound like a teenager, y’know what I mean? Avoid the overuse of really, like, y’know and any other words you might hear at the mall.

Once you’ve made note of areas for improvement, changing them requires an awareness of your poor habits and the determination to practice a new style of speech. At first the words might feel stilted, but keep it up. “It’s a lot easier to change the way you sound than the way you look,” says Sobczak. “You’re risking potential success through a fault that’s entirely controllable,” he says, if you don’t take it upon yourself to improve.

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