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Body Language, Vocal Patterns and Word Choice in Interviews or Conferences

During the interview or conference always keep in mind what your body language, vocal patterns and word choices are telling your customer. This information in this article should also help you understand your customer interaction with you.

Body Language

When analyzing the impact of communication, keep in mind that:

  • 55% of communication is visual,
  • 38% is verbal, and
  • 7% is text (when provided).

This means most of the impact from communication is from visual cues or body language. A person who swears he/she is providing truthful information but keeps looking at the floor is providing conflicting signals. The verbal information states truth but the body language states deception. When there is apparent conflict between verbal and body language, body language tends to be more persuasive.
Behaviors to avoid include:

  • Do not stare intently at the customer.
  • Do not stare at a spot in the room.
  • Do not randomly roam your eyes across the room.
  • Do not read from a script.

Recommended behaviors include:

  • Use a confident, balanced posture to convey authority. Shifting your weight repeatedly gives the appearance you are uncomfortable or nervous.
  • Use an open posture to invite participation. Leaning forward slightly‐ without invading the space of the customer‐ signals you are interested in what the customer is telling you.
  • Be aware of mannerisms that support or sabotage your words. Strong gestures emphasize a point but can be very distracting for complex information.

There are various types of body language of which you need to be aware during your interaction with your customer. Be conscious of the use these types of body language by both you and your customer :


  • Crossed arms
  • Pounding fist
  • Hands on hips
  • Pointing index finger
  • Hands behind back
  • Karate chops in air
  • Hands in “steeple” position


  • Open hands, palms up
  • Large arm gestures
  • Removing your glasses
  • Moving from behind the table
  • Leaning forward on your toes or in your chair
  • Hand-to-face gestures
  • Unbuttoned suit coat or shirt collar, loosened tie
  • Head tilted to side

Insecurity – Nervousness

  • Gripping the table
  • Biting fingernails
  • Biting lips
  • Continual throat clearing
  • Hands in pockets
  • Hands covering mouth
  • Clenched fists
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Jingling keys or coins in pocket
  • Removing glasses and then replacing them
  • Strumming fingers
  • Touching ears
  • Playing with hair, mustache or beard
  • Twisting rings or other jewelry
  • Rocking back and forth or from side to side
  • Tossing pen in air
  • Rubbing hand across forehead and through hair
  • Rubbing back of neck
  • Picking at imaginary or real lint on clothes


  • Underscoring a point on visual aid
  • Large arm movements from the shoulder
  • Dramatic pauses
  • Lifted eyebrows
  • Head poised in reflective tilt
  • Bouncing gently on toes
  • Animated facial expression


  • Hands on lapel or hem of suit jacket
  • Steepled fingers
  • Preening gestures (e.g., patting hair, adjusting clothing)
  • Pointing finger in lecturing fashion

Attached is a printable chart of the above Body Language Types.

Vocal Patterns

Vocal patterns have an impact on the total message.

Varying the volume of your voice can change the tone of your message, and likewise, varying the tone of your message can change the perception of the volume of your voice.

Understanding Volume of Voice

Understanding and using the appropriate voice volume and tone, for a given situation, is an essential social skill. Voice volume refers to how loud or soft a speaker’s voice level is. Voice tone, refers to how your voice is heard and the meaning that is interpreted from others, beyond just the spoken word.

Using the appropriate volume and tone, can make a big difference in how someone is perceived by others.  It can significantly affect business and social relationships such as customer to worker, management to workers, friendships, co-worker to co-worker relationships and even casual exchange between people we interact with every day.

Voice Volume – Focus On Three Things:

  1. Don’t be too loud for the given situation
  2. Don’t be too quiet for the given situation
  3. Vary your volume (within an appropriate range) for the given situation

To make others around us feel comfortable, in most circumstances, we want to avoid the extremes of being too loud or too soft, while also varying our volume within an acceptable middle range.  We don’t want to sound like a robot!

People use voice volume to make a variety of judgments about a speaker.  Softer speakers are sometimes judged as meek or unconfident, which may lead to lowered expectations or less perceived credibility.  Loud speakers may be seen as overbearing or annoying, which can lead people to disengage from the speaker and message.

Voice Volume Levels
Level Voice Volume
0 No Talking
1 Whisper Voice
2 Soft Voice
3 Talking Voice
4 Loud Voice
5 Screaming

Understanding Tone Of Voice

The tone of voice refers to the emotion that you express while speaking, as well as the emphasis that you place on your words. Based on how we say something — our inflection or emphasis on certain words — our body language and facial expressions; our tone conveys our attitude, whether we are sending a message of humor, anger, sarcasm, jealousy, sincerity, etc.

We all recognize that communication skills are critical to how effective we are in our professional and personal lives, and how these skills assist us in making and maintaining strong relationships within your professional life and with our peers.

Our focus tends to be more heavily on voice volume, than on voice tone.  Yet, our tone of voice can sometimes deliver a stronger message than the words we say.  Using the “wrong” or unwelcomed tone of voice can offend, confuse, or even anger others.  Many times we don’t even realize we are doing it!

We tend to be unaware of the emotional message that we are sending with our tone of voice. This can happen when:

  1. We assume others know and understand what we are thinking and feeling.
  2. We lack awareness of the emotional message we are sending.
  3. We intentionally send an emotional message that we, perhaps, shouldn’t.

Tone of Voice Examples:

Below are some sentences that should be said with different tones as indicated.  Pay attention to how differently another person would interpret what you said, just from your tone of voice.


I need help. Tone: worried
I need help. Tone: sad
I need help. Tone: casual
I need help. Tone: angry
I need help. Tone : sarcastic
I’ll do it. Tone: annoyed
I’ll do it. Tone: angry
I’ll do it. Tone: happy
I’ll do it. Tone: excited
I’ll do it. Tone: scared
You’ve got to be kidding me. Tone: excited
You’ve got to be kidding me. Tone: angry
You’ve got to be kidding me. Tone: sad
You’ve got to be kidding me. Tone: bored
You’ve got to be kidding me. Tone: jealous
What was that for? Tone: curious
What was that for? Tone: sad
What was that for? Tone: happy
What was that for? Tone: shocked
What was that for? Tone: angry


You could also say the above sentences in the tones indicated and also with the levels of volume mentioned above to get an idea of how others could interpret what you are trying to say.


The below bullets could assume different meaning based on the information above about volume and tone of voice in mind.

  • Add volume to increase authority. Volume adds energy to the voice. It has the power to command or lose the customer’s attention. Avoid using volume to overpower the customer at the expense of the message. You may be able to control the conversation with volume but lose your credibility with him/her.
  • Dramatically increase or decrease your volume to gain attention. Variety grabs attention. If the customer begins to become excited and raises the volume of his/her voice, get attention by lowering the volume of your voice dramatically. Sounds at the same volume become “white noise” and are shuffled to the back of the customer’s attention. Breathe deeply to improve voice quality. Make sure you have taken enough of a breath to adequately finish the words in your phrase. To make sure you take enough air to control your voice, breathe from the diaphragm. Place your hand underneath your rib cage and feel your diaphragm as it moves up and down to allow your lungs to fill. If you cannot feel your diaphragm move up and down, chances are you are not breathing deeply enough to control your voice properly. If you are standing and breathing from your diaphragm, your shoulders should not rise. The deeper you breathe; generally the better you will sound.
  • Lower your pitch to increase authority. A high‐pitched voice often sends the signal of being nervous. Authoritative vocal tones are low and calm, not high and tense. You can lower your pitch to some degree by practicing scales (as singers do, dropping the voice with each word) and by breathing more deeply to relax your vocal cords. Remember a lower pitch conveys power, authority, and confidence, whereas a high pitch conveys insecurity and nervousness.
  • Identify detracting vocal qualities. Vocal quality refers to such characteristics as a breathy sound, a tense harshness, hoarseness, nasal tones, or a deep resonant, solemn sound. Vocal quality is also measured by weaknesses such as slurring of words, over‐ or under‐articulating certain sounds or accents, and so forth. You can correct some of these simply by awareness; others may require help of a voice coach or speech pathologist.
  • Articulate your words. Remember not to drop final syllables (e.g., He is coming to court today instead of He is comin’ to court today.) and give full value to all sounds so words do not run together in a mumble‐jumble. This is especially important when you feel rushed. When you feel time pressure, you have a natural inclination to run words together or to leave words out of a sentence. If this occurs, your message may become difficult to understand and the customer may have the impression you are uneducated.
  • Place a smile in your tone, when appropriate. A friendly aspect to your tone goes a long way toward establishing a friendly rapport. However, be careful to avoid sounding inappropriately happy for the situation. This sends the message you consider the customer to be on the same level as a child.
  • Vary your pace according to your purpose. Pace refers to your speaking rate. How quickly or slowly should your words be pronounced? A fast rate shows excitement and energy and commands listeners’ attention so they do not miss what you say. However, if you speak too quickly, the customer may have trouble understanding. A slow speaking rate adds drama, emphasizes key points, and gives customers time to reflect on what you are saying. Speaking too slowly, however, may cause the customer’s mind to wander, give the impression you do not know what you are going to say next or signals you consider the customer to be on the same level as a child. Varity is the key. When discussing serious information, slow the pace. Use a faster pace for more light‐hearted information.
  • Do not be afraid to use silence. When requesting information from the customer, wait until he/she has a response. Silences become uncomfortable for most people. If you wait for a response, the customer will provide one. If you wait a short time for a response and begin speaking again, you are signaling the customer’s information is not important. He/she may be thinking about the response needed or trying to recall the information you requested. Additionally, make sure you pause between major points while explaining information. This aids the customer in being able to digest the information before moving on to the next subject.
  • Prevent voice problems before they happen. Think about your voice before meeting with a customer. If your throat is dry, get something to drink. Remember dairy products may dry out your mouth and cold liquids cause your vocal cords to contract.

Word Choice

When choosing words, the best choice is the simplest word. Big words are not necessarily a sign of intelligence. The ability to make a complex subject understandable to the everyday person is the mark of an effective communicator. Simple words create impact. Other tips to keep in mind are:

  • Choose the familiar word over the unfamiliar. Use unusual instead of anomalous, displeased instead of chagrined, or ever‐present instead of ubiquitous.
  • Choose the specific word over the general. Use childcare costs instead of household expenses, use W‐2 form instead of income verification information.
  • Choose the short word over the long. Offer use over utilize, limits over parameters. Do not let your education prevent you from being an effective communicator. A large vocabulary comes in handy to understand someone else or to select just the right word to convey your message, but do not show it off and confuse the customer.
  • Choose short sentences over long ones. Long sentences lose listeners. Short ones are clearer and easier to deliver with a normal breathing rhythm. With written documents, customers can read the sentence again. However, in oral communication, listeners do not have this option. Spoken sentences must be much shorter than written ones. Avoid trying to “speak” your written document.
  • Use the “you” approach. Since you are speaking directly to a person, address them directly. For example, “The income information provided to the court by the obligor and the obligee is used in determining the amount of child support included in the court order” is less understandable than “The income information you and Mr. Smith provided to the court is used in determining the amount of child support included in the court order.”
  • Avoid child support or legal jargon. CSS uses a variety of internal and technical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms. Use income withholding order instead of IWO, public assistance amount instead of URA, and Jane, Ms. Smith’s fourth child, instead of voucher baby.
  • Avoid poor grammar. Correct grammar remains one mark of education in our society. Customers will determine their opinion of you, in part, by your use of grammar. Watch for incorrect use of pronouns such as “Mary and him appeared for the hearing” or “You can give the copy of the court order to Michael or myself.” Additionally, avoid incorrect subject‐verb agreement, such as “He don’t have the proper identification with him today” or “We was waiting for the judge to arrive.”