The Case for Expressive Speaking…Even on Earnings Calls

 In Delivery, Presence
Business People at Work in Office Teamwork Concept. Group of Colleagues Sitting at Desk and Celebrating and Cheering each other for Work done. Comunication between Coworkers. Coworkers Celebrating.

I am a vocal practitioner. I have observed and worked with voices for years and have developed theories about the way the voice works and how it affects listeners. One of my conclusions is that I like expressive voices, and so do you. But don’t take my word for it.

In a guest post on this blog, Sue Gaulke gave us the results of a survey she conducted, wherein she learned that the most “terrible turnoff” for audiences is a speaker’s monotonous voice. Through scientific studies, T. Johnstone and others have shown that emotions in the voice do elicit a response in the brains of listeners. Research by UCI professor and scientist, James McGaugh has shown that expressive voices are more memorable. In fact, evoking an emotional response may actually create the memory. And for those who wonder if you CAN evoke an emotional response (as if that isn’t obvious!), research now shows that “emotional information is represented by distinct spatial patterns that can be decoded from brain activity in modality-specific cortical areas.”

The takeaway for you as a voice user should be that expression is important, even when you are discussing profit and loss via PowerPoint. As Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” Specifically, if you want to be interesting AND memorable, you must be emotional.

Emotional Recall: The key to an expressive voice:

Actors use a technique called “emotional recall” to bring up their personal experience and help create emotion in their voices. Here’s how it might work for you as a public speaker. Your company sold a lot of widgets. You have to speak about your huge profits while showing a graph. You are tempted to simply talk us through the report. However, your report is good news so I suggest that to make it memorable and to keep our attention, you need to make it sound like good news by including “good news” emotions in your voice. When you practice, do this:

  • Think back to a time when you experienced good news personally. Imagine the moment. How did you feel? Bring back that feeling and now, when you talk about success, your mind brings up happy faces and the thrill of winning instead of just a report. We can hear it in your voice.

It may be that the strength of your emotional recall is linked to the intensity of your original emotion. However, the emotional recall may actually be linked to a gene. Some people only recall extreme emotional memory while others recall even mild emotions intensely.

Try it:

To see how emotional recall works for you, recall how you felt in both big and small situations, negative and positive, and across the spectrum of emotional vocabulary. For example, good news might feel like one of the following:

  • Winning a swim meet
  • Hearing your dog’s “hello” bark
  • The feeling when you held your newborn child
  • Playing Guitar Hero
  • Winning the lottery

How does bad news feel? Sadness? Anxiety? Frustration? Determination? Dedication? Find the emotion or emotions appropriate for your topic. Now speak through your presentation aloud, using the emotions you have recalled.


The trick is to remember a time you felt the emotion you want to convey, remember the physical sensations and recreate them so you feel them again. If you had an emotional response originally, your brain will remember the emotion and the physical response along with the situation, so you can feel it again. That recalled feeling has the ability to change the way you sound to others AND evoke an emotional response in them that they will remember. They will also be more likely to remember you and your message.

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