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"Convincing Evidence" -- The Discovery Files

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Want to convince someone to do something? A University of Michigan study examines how various speech characteristics influence people's decisions to participate in telephone surveys. But its findings have implications for many other situations, from closing sales to swaying voters to getting spouses to see things your way.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

It's Not Always What You Say, It's How You Say It.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

From convincing your spouse to closing a sale, researchers at the University of Michigan have identified some speech characteristics that may help your success ratio.

The team broke down 1,380 phone calls made by 100 male and female interviewers trying to convince people to participate in a telephone survey. Here are the findings -- which may not always work, but could give you a better overall chance.

Speed: Interviewers who spoke moderately fast (about 3 words per second or the pace I'm speaking now) had better luck; any faster and you come off as untrustworthy; slower and you seem unsure, not too bright. Liveliness: The team found that too many inflections make you sound fake or like you're trying too hard. Pitch: Depends on if you're a man or a woman. Men with higher-pitched voices fared worse than men with deep voices. With women, pitch was not a factor.

The last characteristic was pauses. The least successful interviewers had no pauses and came off sounding scripted. Pausing a lot did better but tended to make the speaker sound uninformed. The right amount of pauses seems to be about 4 or 5 per minute.

Now using these guidelines get out there and talk someone into something. Some "convincing" evidence.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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