Recent research shows that the human brain can detect confidence in your voice in 0.2 seconds — faster than the blink of an eye. And it’s confidence that influences the listener to give you attention and perceive authority.
It’s an interesting finding, especially with the mainstream emergence of podcasting. We’ve already discussed how audio is smart foundational content that can be repurposed into text, slides, and infographics. But perhaps audio is simply the smartest content of all, standing alone?
Not everyone writes with authority. But anyone can speak with authority, assuming you know your stuff and apply some basic tactics that lets your confidence shine.
In this 19-minute episode Robert Bruce and I discuss:
- The maddening path to mastery and confidence
- How to learn any topic at a deeper level
- 4 quick tips for more confident speaking
The Show Notes
- The Human Brain Detects Confidence in Voices Faster than You Can Blink
- How to Become an Expert in Any Topic
- The Demosthenes Story (and Speech Technique)
- Dan Benjamin on Mic Technique
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Diaphragmatic Breathing (Redux)
- Brian Clark on Twitter
Does Audio Create Authority Faster Than Text?
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Robert Bruce: I’m recording this, Brian. Are you going to cough? Do you have a cough button?
Brian Clark: No.
Robert Bruce: Because if you cough, I mean, I can edit it out later.
Brian Clark: Wait, is this the opening of the show?
Robert Bruce: This is the opening of the show. Because here’s the thing.
Brian Clark: That’s wonderful.
Robert Bruce: We’re a week away from Denver, from Authority Rainmaker, and you’re sitting here coughing on this recording. It’s making me a little nervous.
Brian Clark: Yeah. I’m not sure what’s going on. You know, I got a Tweet last week. Someone said he didn’t like all the chitchat that you and I engage in. This is probably going to really impress that guy.
Robert Bruce: Wow.
Brian Clark: Yeah.
Robert Bruce: It’s like a minute, compared to other things. Let’s just keep chit … No, we won’t keep chitchatting.
All right. Does audio create authority faster than text? Interesting question you’ve brought up here. What are you getting at with this question?
Brian Clark: When I write the Further newsletter, I’m constantly reading geeky psychological articles, which I enjoy quite a bit. I came across this article that said that the human brain detects confidence in the voice of a speaker in less than a blink of a eye — like two-tenths of a second, that fast. It was really interesting to me because basically, in this research study, they taped 64 electrodes to each subject’s head, and then they had people make statements. They were designed to either be ‘neutral’ or ‘unconfident,’ ‘mostly confident,’ and then ‘confident,’ and the brain activity spiked, just lit up, when confident speech was heard.
It was almost instantaneous. Nearly confident speech took a little bit longer to process. If you’re not quite as confident, it’s harder for people to assess. It was something like 130 milliseconds later. It’s just kind of fascinating to me that we’re hardwired to give our attention and to attribute influence to people who speak confidently, even though there may be plenty of people out there who know their stuff, but they don’t have that level of confidence. I can certainly see that coming in to play with podcasting.
The flip side to this is coming from a medium that’s been text-heavy since the beginning of the Internet, a lot of people don’t write with a voice of authority or confidence, even if they are. It made me think. Is podcasting or audio content really the cure or an enhancer of authority if in fact you know what you’re talking about and you can deliver it confidently? It’s an interesting question.
The Maddening Path to Mastery and Confidence
Robert Bruce: Yeah. Very interesting. It’s a tough one because — we’ve talked about this a lot — the idea of turning on, sitting in front of a microphone, hitting ‘record,’ is a completely unnatural act. Therefore, it can erode any confidence that you may have in the subject, even when you are an expert and when you are working on these things day in and day out over a period of years and talking about them.
Brian Clark: Yeah. In the research I did subsequently to finding this article — how do people become more confident — it’s kind of like this chicken-and-egg situation. Become confident to do things that you’re not confident about. The only way to become confident is to do them anyway, which I think drives everyone crazy, but it’s true. For example, I was deathly afraid of public speaking before I started doing it about seven years ago, and you know from our private conversations, I dread it every time. I was like, “Why did agree to do this again?” Then you said, “That’s what you said last year and the year before that.”
I still get nervous but here’s how I get over it. Number one, I stick to topics that I know, obviously. No one wants to hear me talk about something I don’t know what I’m talking about. Even the minutia or the anecdotes or music references, I will go and research to make sure that I don’t get even the smallest thing wrong, because I don’t like it. I don’t like to make mistakes, even though they happen to everyone.
Finally, the finally component, if I can refer to our friend, Mr. Henry Rollins and his Writer Files interview, you remember the two words that he said were his favorite quote?
Robert Bruce: Oh yeah, right. No. Can we say it? I’ll have to bleep it out, right?
Brian Clark: Yeah, well, “Eff it.” That’s ultimately what I say in my head when I go up on stage. What’s the worst that could happen? Do your best. It’s always fun. When I get off stage, I’m exhilarated and I feel good, but what I found looking through the research is that you kind of just have to say, if not ‘eff it,’ then “What’s the worst that can happen?” In making mistakes, it’s feedback. Right? You tried something. You fail. You learn. You try again. But if you can’t take that mindset, then confidence never really develops, because you’re always afraid of failure as if it’s going to physically hurt you, and in most cases, that’s not what’s going to happen at all.
Robert Bruce: It’s the old thing with podcasting in particular. How to get better, how to become comfortable, and yes, confident behind the microphone is to do 100 episodes. It’s just to keep doing it, as painful as it may be. The question, too, becomes, though, is it something that you want to do, versus something that you think might help — whatever — your goals or anything? Because if it’s something that you’re not too sure about, obviously that’s going to affect how you do the thing. Maybe commitment is a part of that, as well. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it, and then that becomes the long-haul-over-100-episodes thing.
How to Learn Any Topic at a Deeper Level
Brian Clark: Right, and the process of doing it, that’s so important. You’ve always said — go back to our first episodes of the podcast back in 2010 — we were terrible, and I take your word for it because I’m not going back and listening at this point.
Here’s something else that’s really amazing: when you are expanding your knowledge on a topic, let’s say you’ve got some baseline knowledge because you’re in this particular industry, in which you’re always learning new things. The best strategy for a podcast or a blog or whatever is to share what you know as you’re learning. You don’t have to hold yourself out as, “I’m the premier expert on this.”
No. “Here’s what I know, and I’m sharing it with you so you know it.” But there’s an interesting thing about that process. The process of learning and then explaining it to people means that you internalize that information at a much higher rate. It’s called elaboration. It’s a retrieval process. If you really want to learn something, you need to force yourself to retrieve the information. One way to do that is through quizzes and testing. We think about the test as determining what you know, but it’s actually a learning aid. The act of being tested and retrieving tells you what you don’t know, what you do know, and it solidifies the material for you at a higher level, which is pretty cool.
Through the years of Copyblogger and explaining deeper copywriting principles and content marketing, thinking deeply, and trying to learn more, I realized a long time ago that that was what made my game elevate much faster than if I were just a practitioner. The act of explaining forces you to understand the material at a higher level. You truly do become an expert, and your confidence level goes up. It’s maddening, but you’ve got to do it in order to increase your confidence, which increases your authority all in one big package. It’s kind of amazing, but the only way to get by it is to do it.
Now Robert, beyond this — just showing up and doing the work, which is simple but not always easy — you’re a trained actor. You’ve done voice work. You’ve done all sorts of stuff that perhaps the average person who’s thinking about getting into podcasting hasn’t done. Do you have any tips in that arena where you can enhance the confidence that comes across in your voice, or is that even possible?
4 Quick Tips for More Confident Speaking
Robert Bruce: Oh yeah, it definitely is, and I think it’s my former life as an actor. There’s a couple of things. I’ll list off a couple of things and describe them briefly. The best thing to do is to go to NewRainmaker.FM, and I’ll leave a bunch of stuff in the show notes for this episode. The episode is titled, Does Audio Create Authority Faster than Text? Four quick things.
One is preparation. All of these are going to be obvious — I think relatively obvious, anyway — but in the context of podcasting and doing content — audio, video, whatever it is — preparation. Yes, in terms of the content itself, either making notes, or sometimes you want to script something out completely. The general idea here is know what you’re talking about. If you’re not an expert, necessarily, know the subject that you’re interviewing, which is another way to approach all of these topics and to slowly gain confidence in front of the mic or in front of the camera. Preparation, that’s number one.
Number two is to breathe. We’re not going to get into yoga and all of that stuff, of which I know nothing, but there are some basic breathing techniques that can be surprisingly helpful in terms of how it affects the voice. The one quick thing is you may have heard, “Breathe from your diaphragm.” What the hell does that mean? It’s this kind of weird statement that you hear every once in a while. The thing that helped me understand it was, as someone once told me, as babies, we breathe properly from our diaphragm. If you look at a baby in a crib sleeping, naturally their stomach is going to be going up and down, up and down.
If you don’t think about it, which is impossible now that I mentioned it, as adults, somewhere we transition to this idea of breathing more shallow and breathing from our chest. Our chest goes up and down as you take a breath in and take a breath out. When you’re on stage in front of the microphone, in front of the video, breathing obviously is the mechanism by which your words are delivered in that sense. You want to breathe from the diaphragm. One quick cheat on this is the next couple of breaths you take, when you inhale, expand your stomach. Inhale through the nose, expand your stomach, force it, even fake it, exhale. The stomach goes down. That is breathing, essentially, from the diaphragm. Again, I’ll leave a few notes on here.
It’s kind of a weird deal, but it’s a physical act that enhances the speaking ability, and this is going back forever.
Brian Clark: Yeah. I had issues with proper breathing and too-shallow breathing. It’s kind of strange. You have to train yourself to pay attention to the breath, which I suppose meditation helps with to a certain degree. But it’s really when you’re in the act of your day-to-day life that you need to make sure that you’re properly breathing, and that can be challenging.
Robert Bruce: Yeah, and you’ll notice in the context of this conversation, that your voice will become deeper and stronger in a sense when you’re ‘breathing from the diaphragm.’ Again, more on that in the show notes.
One quick thing in terms of enunciation and pronouncing words properly and clearly. This one is a little bit of a catch-22 in the modern age. It’s Demosthenes’ stones. No, not those stones. It was — how far back are we going, back to ancient Athens? Demosthenes was a gentleman who grew up with a speech impediment, and through a series of events, he wanted to learn how to speak better. It’s a great story, I won’t tell the whole thing right here.
He put into his mouth a number of stones. Of course, if you’re going to try this, be very careful. You could easily get in to trouble swallowing stones. He spoke with these stones in his mouth, forcing his mouth to speak through them, and this helps with — over the long term — enunciation. You can use a cork from a wine bottle, any number of things that kind of obstruct the mouth and force it to work harder as you speak. Simple things like that can really help.
The one thing you want to be careful about this, though, is that we are in an age where the Shakespearean actor, though alive and well on stages around the world, in popular culture really does not hold the weight that it once did. A great example is Orson Welles. If I were to come on here and talk like Orson Welles — not like I’m talking like him now, I sound nothing like him — you would be disturbed and probably click off and run away. Now, you can see it.
Brian Clark: It’s more like, you have to be confident but you also have to be authentic. That’s the balancing act.
Robert Bruce: Just look at television. Acting is a great corollary here because if you look at television these days, actors are more subtle. They’re micced, so they do not have to project to the back of a theater, but that is also affected the style of acting, which we’ve all become accustomed to and love in these shows. It’s very low-key, a lot of times, and sometimes you can’t even see their mouth moving in some cases, or understand the words they’re saying, I’ve found recently. You want to be careful with using techniques like putting rocks or a cork in your mouth or something.
The last thing, number four, I’ll say, is mic technique. There are ways to approach a microphone that are very helpful in terms of sounding good. I’m still working with this. We all are. But I’ll drop a few notes in on that, but just simple things like talking around or over your microphone, not directly into it, speaking at a certain distance or distances, depending on what it is you’re trying to affect with the microphone.
That’s four things: preparation, breathing, Demosthenes’ stones, and mic technique.
Brian Clark: Just try saying ‘Demosthenes’ over and over.
Robert Bruce: I know. That’s bad enough.
Brian Clark: Tough enough. That’s probably all you need to do.
Robert Bruce: Let me add a fifth one real quick here, Brian, which is the biggest one of all, which is editing.
Brian Clark: Yes.
Robert Bruce: You can take out all those screw-ups –‘ ums,’ ‘uhs’ — you don’t hear all this stuff because we take a lot of that out for your benefit, dear listener, but editing is a great benefit in confidence, as well. It helps to know that while you’re talking, while you’re recording, “Oh, okay, this sucks. This whole section that I just spoke was horrible. I can take that out,” which can help with confidence, as well.
Brian Clark: Yeah. That took me a long time to really realize that the magic happens in editing, and you can just completely screw up. You just can’t let it shake you, and start over again. Just pause, take a breath, and start over. The final product is really all that matters. No one has to know how many things ended up on the floor, metaphorically.
Robert Bruce: That old cutting room floor.
Brian Clark: All right. Well, this is an interesting topic. This is kind of fun to geek out about, but podcasting — as we’ve discussed over and over in the New Rainmaker free training — it’s the perfect source content because you get it out there. You get your expertise out there. It can be repurposed in to other formats as desired or applicable, and it’s completely doable.
But we had Jerod talking about the connection that you make with people when they can hear your voice and the nuance that can come across or gets lost in writing, or just, again, that a lot of people are not confident in their writing, and they tend to just slip into the passive voice and then come across as wishy-washy when they’re not at all. It’s just that not everyone is writer.
Anyway. If you’re on the fence about starting your own podcast, don’t let a lack of confidence stop you because the only way you’re going to get there is like us, maybe doing 20 terrible episodes. Who cares?
Robert Bruce: And twenty terrible more.
Brian Clark: What’s the worst that could happen?
Robert Bruce: No more chitchat.
Brian Clark: That’s right.