As you get out of pajamas, desperately trying to look almost normal for your next virtual meeting, consider one more thing.

Your voice.

Because as soon as you say “Good morning,” you’ve made a lasting impression.


You can predict winning business pitches, according to M.I.T. professor Alex Pentland, without paying any attention to the content. Instead, he focused on critical nonverbal behaviors, like vocal variety (“Understanding ‘Honest Signals’ in Business”).

“His voice was a monotone. He seemed tired.” That’s what a juror told The Wall Street Journal about the defense attorney in a big insider trading case. The jury delivered a “Guilty on all counts” verdict. 

Of course, the evidence didn’t help either. But suppose the defense had hired a more lively team—imagine Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. For their closing argument, they sing Shallow:

“Are you happy,” Bradley Cooper asks the jury, “in this modern world? Or do you need more? Is there something else you’re searching for?”

Or else (my favorite part of Shallow), Lady Gaga sings:

“Ooooo aahaaa ooou
Ooo ouo oooo haaaa”

These aren’t words, her voice is everything and, in less than 20 seconds, she conveys something powerful.

Could “Ooooo aahaaa ooou. Ooo ouo oooo haaaa!” convince a jury in an insider trading case? Probably not.

Still, you can predict which surgeons will get sued, even if you can’t understand a word they’re saying, just by listening to their tone of voice—for 40 seconds,.

The worst tone for surgeons? Dominant. That’s according to psychologist Nalini Ambady (“Surgeons’ tone of voice: A clue to malpractice history”).

How’s your voice? 

The lawyer in the insider trading case assumed his voice was fine. It wasn’t.

Tip: Listen to how you sound. Record a new outgoing message for your voice mail, then critique it. Avoid monotone, go for vocal variety.

I change my office message weekly, e.g. “Hi, this is Paul, the week of March 30 . . .” Sometimes I do a few takes before saving the new message. I consider it vocal practice each week, 1-2 minutes tops.

Plus, it’s good to reassure everyone that you were definitely alive at the start of the week.

To sound alive, these days, is no small thing.

P.S. Speaking of Zoom—please check these 10 webinars to see if any are right for your team.

Would Resilience @ Work, or Your Point?, or Smart Questions be helpful? Let’s sharpen your team’s skills, for now and later. Please email or call 508-879-0934 for more info.

P.P.S. Rather just read a book?

On sale until May 1: You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World, $2.99, kindle edition. Also available in print and audio.

Named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper.

“EVERYONE should read this book. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, you will need to convince people that you and/or your ideas are the best path forward. I am a research scientist (MD, PhD) and have presented more than 139 lectures over the past 7 years. Paul’s advice is invaluable. And it’s sprinkled with humor—I laughed out loud at many passages. I LOVE this book, it is my Bible for presentations.” —Nancy Richert, MRI Acquisition and Analysis Expert, NeuroRx

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PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful.

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