How to Talk So People Really Listen

The first lesson in being able to talk in a confident, constructive way, is learning how to listen, which we covered in a previous article. It may even be the first few lessons.

It might seem like an obvious topic, but you’d be surprised by how much you can learn. A lot of it, you may not be doing now.

For example, is your body listening, as well as your mind? How well are you maintaining eye contact? Should you take notes?

Once you’ve become the most attentive listener you can be, you need to know how to respond. And I mean truly respond. By taking the room by the jaffers and showing you’re no shrinking violet.

Control the room (or phone)

There are certain people in life that really know how to talk. Their mouths open and the room falls instantly silent. They don’t have to clear their voice. Or raise their hand.

Think Samuel L. Jackson. Clint Eastwood. Morgan Freeman. Denzel Washington.

It’s not an accident. Every person with an iconic voice and ability to hold attention has practiced. It’s their trade. They make a handsome living from being able to deliver a line.

But you can learn the same traits.

Of course there’s a difference in featuring in a film and speaking with a candidate. But there are overlaps in approach.

And how you deliver your speech is something you can practice. It won’t cost you anything but time. So here are the seven differentiators in delivery:


If you’re a quiet speaker, your content will seem less important. Pay attention to how loud you seem in comparison to others. And don’t be afraid to alter your volume in order to be heard. There’s a lot of power in a whisper. It’s about tailoring volume to content.


Where do you put the emphasis on words in a sentence? You’ll notice by saying the same sentence with two different pitches, the content changes. Raising your tone at the end of the word ‘agree’ makes it a question. Going down makes it a statement. Agree?

Learn how you sound to others by recording a regular conversation with a friend or colleague – if you can stand listening to your own voice that is.


Remember Isaac Hayes, the chef from South Park? That guy had incredible timbre. When he spoke it sounded warm. Almost comforting. Like a mug of hot chocolate. Whilst this is hard to put into effect, having the opposite is to be avoided.


Register is linked to timbre and plays a similar role.

Having a lower register is associated with power and authority. To increase a lower register in your voice, try speaking from your chest or diaphragm. If your register is naturally high, take your time over delivery. The more time you take, the less chance of rushing. And more chance of lower register.

Here are two examples of opposing register from Police Academy.

Police Adademy


If you listen to somebody talk who has no rhythm in their speech, you’ll be bored. You probably won’t be able to work out whether they’re excited or not.

In fact you’ll be so bored listening, you’ll notice the lack of rhythm more than anything they say.

Don’t be this person.

Emphasise excitement. If a great offer comes in for a candidate, make it great from your voice before anything else.

Think about talking to a dog. Most can’t speak English very well, so excitement comes from intonation. Not content. Unless you say the words ball, walk or dinner, I guess.


You’ll know from negotiation training how well silence can serve you.

Saying nothing is sometimes the most powerful device you have for being heard. This goes for saying nothing at all. Or pausing for effect at the beginning, middle or…

the end of your speech.


How quickly you speak is important. Go too slow, and your content will be ignored. Too fast, and no one will know what you’ve said. Remember the first time you delivered a speech for BD on the phone to a client? You probably rushed it.

You wouldn’t do that now, of course. But getting excited will speed up your delivery. So once again, vary it.

Ongoing considerations

To continue your education in controlling a room with your voice, you need to keep your audience interested. Not just in the delivery of how you speak. But the content of what you say.

Your first step here should be watching this TED Talk by Julian Treasure. I’ve spoken about its value previously in our TED talk series. By picking up bad habits when you speak to people, your audience will become less bothered by what you have to say.

Short-term that might stop you making placements. Long-term, less of your network will answer your calls or want to meet you.

Therefore these small details are worth paying attention to.

Julian’s seven bad habits of speaking are:

1) Gossip: If you gossip about one person, you’ll gossip about the person you’re talking to now. Avoid it at all costs.

2) Judgement: Empathy’s a pretty important trait. And judgement will stop conversations very quickly.

3) Negativity: Make sure you stay positive on calls and in person. Negative people make conversation harder, not easier.

4) Complaining: It’s OK to start with an assessment of the weather, and if you’re British, that’ll be a complaint. But move on. People like positives. If there’s a problem, there’s a fix. Focus on that.

5) Excuses: Take criticism on the chin and give credit where it’s due.

6) Exaggeration: “This is the most generous package I’ve ever seen them offer” sounds good once. If someone hears that twice, it sounds like a lie. Be honest in your critiques and you don’t have anything to remember.

7) Dogmatism:  An idea or opinion being displayed as fact won’t help you or your audience. As a recruiter you’re a sounding board and adviser. Not a deity. Offer opinions as opinions. Not fact.

All of these tips in speaking work for writing too by the way.

So when you say you’re working on the most amazing role you’ve ever worked on, it better be. Otherwise trust in you the next time you wheel that out will be hampered.

How many ‘fantastic opportunities’ have you had? Because I absolutely guarantee not every one of them will be fantastic. And using the same words to describe every job or candidate is unimaginative.

It’s not the end of the world to be unimaginative. But after a while, people will stop listening. So when a genuinely fantastic role comes along, no one will be there to find out.

Woman Phone

Speaking to Candidates and Clients

So you’ve watched the TED Talk, you’ve noted the bad habits and you’re going to record your voice to see if there’s anything bad you’re doing.

How do you put everything into practice to make sure you become as powerful a talker as Sam Jackson?

First, frame every conversation you start. 

It’s rare you call someone in recruitment for a chat. Therefore, giving the reason for your call will let the other person know what to expect. You’ll be more purposeful and have better delivery.

This also works well with an agenda. Write down any subtopics you want to cover. You won’t miss anything and can stay on track if conversation meanders. Which it will.

Think before you speak.

When answering a question, take some time before responding. Take a breath. Count to three. You can always buy time if you need to. But you can’t ‘unsay’ something.

This means your delivery will be better, but also the content will be thought out and appropriate.

Shut up!

When you’ve said what you need to say, shut up. This is especially true in writing. But if you’re saying the same sentence, in a different way, you’re not offering anything to the conversation. Nothing moves on. Content’s regurgitated.

Be confident.

If you’re confident, you’re heard. You’ll likely be louder. Keep a good pace. Your intonation will land on the right words. You’ll maintain eye contact. People will listen. And you’ll have well and truly mastered the spoken word.

If you really want to command a room, taking these steps will leave your audience wowed by what you have to say. That audience may well be one candidate on the phone. Or it might be a room of 200 people.

But as your voice is the instrument which makes you money, reviewing how it’s being received is the kind of self analysis that sets good recruiters apart from great recruiters. 

Start analysing yourself today, and you’ll see your conversations become more rewarding.