From Monotone to Moving: The Power of Voice Inflection


Results from a study at the University of Chicago  revealed the average human ear can distinguish 1,378 noticeable differences in tone.  By comparison, we can distinguish only 150 hues of color. Based on this scale, hearing is almost 10x more sensitive than our eyesight. Their research also showed that how you say something is five times more important than what you say. Thus, the importance of voice inflection is demonstrated.

Everyone has a natural voice inflection.

In sales, especially telephone sales, voice inflection separates the best from the rest. It’s important to understand what different voice inflections mean to your audience.

Upward Inflection is a change in pitch from a lower to a higher note specifically in a vowel. Most often, this change in pitch indicates questioning, insincerity, surprise or suspense. So don’t use it when you’re stating facts or closing a deal.


Downward  Inflection is a change in pitch going from a higher to a lower note again specifically within the vowel. A downward inflection at the end of a sentence makes it more powerful and tells the prospect you’re confident with your message. Most often, this change in pitch indicates confidence, finality, power and certainty. This is the inflection you want to use when stating facts, closing a sale and setting an appointment. This particular voice inflection is one of the hardest to master, lowering your voice takes practice and intent.

Level Inflection is a lack of change in pitch within the vowel. Most often, this indicates disinterest, indecision or boredom.  A famous example of this is Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s day off. His lack of inflection makes him sound bored, although it does make for a funny scene.



Speed Kills: Talking fast tells your prospect one of two things. Either A) you know you’ll probably be interrupted before you finish, or B) what you’re about to say isn’t that important, you just need to finish your statement and move on. Each of these messages are negative and will hurt your sales presentation. 

Slow Down: Slowing your speech pattern tells your prospect you want them to listen carefully to what you’re about to say.

Changes in Volume: In most cases, raising the volume of your voice doesn’t indicate you’re excited or confident.  It actually typically says you’re not having a good day.

Speak Softly: Lowering the volume of your voice helps listeners feel relaxed while requiring them to listen with intent. This is helpful when explaining a complex topic that has the tendency to overwhelm listeners. Speak softly, and they’ll feel better equipped to comprehend and understand the information presented.

First phone impressions happen very quickly.

The minute you pick up the phone, your tone of voice and your words become the entire story. In fact, almost the entire message you project over the phone is communicated through your tone. You can enhance the effects of voice inflection. Below are a few ways to get better:

Tips to improve your inflection

  • Practice in the mirror – You’ve probably heard about the trick of placing a mirror in front of you while you’re on the phone. The reason it works is not psychological but rather physiological.  When you smile, the soft palate at the back of your mouth raises and makes the sound waves more fluid
  • Awareness: Another way to improve your inflection is to be aware of how stressing certain words changes the feeling of what you’re saying
  • Learn to take slow, deep breaths (without sounding like Darth Vader) – Most people become shallow breathers when they’re under pressure. The more pressure or stress you feel, the shallower and quicker your breathing will be. When this breathing pattern happens, your vocal cords tend to tighten, making your voice go up and sound strained.
  • Record your current presentation – Take notes on where in your presentation you naturally use inflection and which type of inflection you use. From there, you can plan where you want to use inflection.
  • Practice changing your speed and volume – By doing so, you can see what feels natural to you, along with what sounds best for the listener. 

To sum these tips up, selling takes practice, and the ability to demonstrate voice inflection. No one will buy from or agree with someone who does not sound like he or she believes in his or her product. Engulf yourself in what you are selling and the way you speak about it, and you’re sure to notice an improvement.