Verbal Machinegun Fire

Consider this: our brains are pretty much like super-computers. We can process information literally in milliseconds, and remember how no one stops for a minute to analyze and interpret the tone of someone’s voice and then consciously decides to feel threatened or safe, or skeptical or open-minded. This is all done instinctively.

I was at a party at my neighbors’ recently, and there was a guy there that I never met before. This guy had recently turned 50 years old, he was about 6 feet tall, had a full head of hair, barrel-chested with big, thick forearms, and one of those deep, booming voices that everyone immediately takes heed to.

And on first glance? He was one of those guys who can be a bit intimidating. We’re all told not to judge books by their covers, but we all do it anyway. We instinctively size up every single person we come across and make decisions to engage or avoid based on how they look and sound. In fact, I avoided him for quite a while at the party, but realistically? He was actually a really nice guy.

We hung out and spoke for a bit that night, and it was funny because someone jokingly said something about his voice, and he told me how there’s been many times throughout his life where he’d approach a group of people, say something, and they’re all like: “Whoa, tough guy!”

“No, it’s just my voice!” he says, laughing.

So we wound up speaking about tonality and nonverbal communication (not at length, it was a party), and I explained the neuroscientific order of operations and how our tonality gets picked up by the subconscious parts of other peoples’ minds, and that explains why the others felt immediately threatened when he first approached and spoke with them.

That, and like I mentioned, on first glance, he just looks like the kind of guy you don’t mess with.

“There’s a balance to this, too,” I told him. “I mean, think about how if you were on the opposite side of this spectrum … like, if you were some skinny nerd. Ya walk up to the group, go to say something but ya have this high-pitched, squeaky voice that comes out a little crackly …”

“No one would take me seriously then!” he says, laughing.


So, it can go too far either way on this spectrum, of course, but the last thing you want to do is immediately set off threat alarms when you first speak with anyone new, especially if you’re trying to sell something or get them to go along with some idea of yours. I mean, think about it: it doesn’t matter how much you actually know at that point—if people feel threatened? They basically shut down and go into survival mode (fight-or-flight).

So now that you’re aware of all this, know that you can strategically prepare yourself before engaging with anyone new and tailor your approach to avoid setting off alarms—and this is really the science behind charisma. Some people naturally have it, most don’t, but it’s an entirely learnable skill.

In person, we communicate with how we dress, how we stand or sit, our posture, the distance we keep from others while speaking, and even with how we style our hair and groom ourselves (more of that 93% nonverbal, right?), but over the phones? All you have is your voice.

So basically, if you can safely navigate the opening of the initial interaction and avoid setting off alarms by strategically relieving the primal concerns in the right order, then what you’re doing, essentially, is you’re helping your potential clients quickly move from a state of uncertainty to a state of certainty.

This ties into the URT (Uncertainty Reduction Theory), which is a communications theory that’s pretty simple to understand. In short, when you first meet someone new, you exchange superficial pieces of information to get to know each other, and then as time goes on and the relationship develops, you exchange more in-depth information.

There’s this concept of “appropriate disclosure of information,” too, so basically, you don’t start with your secrets because too much information, too fast, is a turn off in any scenario.

I’m a big Jordan Belfort fan (the Wolf of Wallstreet guy), and I know the movie was pretty crazy but in real life, he’s a business communications genius. He says: “There are THREE THINGS that a potential client must feel certain about,” and he puts them on a scale of 1 to 10, like this: “the Product, the Company, and the People.”

“The closer to 10 on these, the better the chances of closing. But, if any one of them is off … you’re DONE!” he says.

And to take it a step further, if one (or more) of these is low and the person does purchase, the post-sale relationship has increased likelihood of not going very well. This makes a lot of sense, right? But what a lot of people don’t seem to realize, is that there are actually two types of certainty: Logical and Emotional.

And something I’ve seen at multiple organizations now, is that they expend vast amounts of their energy building the case for logical certainty, which is very important, of course—but they tend to overlook the client’s need for emotional certainty.

Jordan Belfort talks about this, but not in the movie (you’ll have to read his book Way of the Wolf and search YouTube for interviews / speaking engagements).

So as you raise your potential clients’ levels of logical and emotional certainty, at the same time, you’re also increasing their trust levels (in you and your organization) because you’re reducing their uncertainty by s.l.o.w.i.n.g t.h.i.n.g.s d.o.w.n and easing your way into the relationship.

If your initial interaction goes like this:

Rep: “So, what can we help with?”

Lead: “I’m looking for help with [this, this, & this] …”

Rep: “Oh, we can definitely help with all of that … let me tell you all about it!”

And then you launch into a 4-minute tirade of verbal machinegun fire, explaining all the features and benefits, it’s TMI—it’s too fast, and it’s overwhelming. This is how you get people to check out on you. Unless everything was just a perfect fit (which can happen sometimes), there won’t be any interest in a second interaction. Giving all the information away on the initial interaction is like telling all your secrets on a first date; it scares people off. So s.l.o.w t.h.i.n.g.s d.o.w.n a little and replicate how successful relationships form in real life in your sales process.

Published by Thomas Hurley

I am a father, husband, drummer, boater, marketer, communicator, animal-lover.

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