Whether choosing a money manager, hearing a witness testify, or picking a prime minister, listeners are more persuaded when communicators seem more certain or confident about what they are communicating. Scientists have refined the exact components of “powerful” language, but at its core, the main idea is that speaking with power makes people seem more self-assured and knowledgeable, which in turn makes audiences more likely to listen and be persuaded. But you don’t need to be born with the ability to speak with power or confidence — it’s something you can learn. New research on the science of language reveals four specific changes that will help you speak with greater power.
Ditch the hedges -
When someone says “around,” “arguably,” “I believe,” “generally,” “kind of,” “maybe,” “presumably,” “rarely,” or “usually,” they’re hedging. They’re expressing uncertainty in one way or another. Hedging undermines your impact, because while you’re sharing your thoughts or recommendations, you’re simultaneously suggesting that you’re not sure they are worth considering.
Sales executive Reena Mishra makes almost a dozen presentations a week to existing and prospective clients and to internal colleagues and management. But her impact was minimal, only sometimes persuading people to take her advice or go along with her suggestions. The content wasn’t the issue: her presentation decks were strong. But transcripts showed that she was saying “uh,” “um,” and “er” a lot. To cull these hesitations, she practiced what she was going to say, scripted answers to questions in advance, and paused when necessary to get back on track. It worked. Using fewer “um”s and “uh”s made her pitches sharper, and the next month, she converted almost a third more potential prospects into clients.
The CEO of a major corporation told a linguistics researcher that the decisions he has to make in five minutes are often about projects others have worked on for five months. To do that, he relies on a simple rule: If the person seeking approval sounds confident, he supports them. If not, he denies them. Once those who work for him understand the rule, they can most easily convey the kind of certainty and decisiveness needed to get their project approved, avoiding any hint of humility or hedging, by using definites such as “clearly,” “unquestionable,” “irrefutably,” “absolutely,” and “undeniable.”