We almost should forget to speak – with a constant increasing set of online tools for text based communication. Tony Crawford indicates that – due to improved technology on voice infrastructure – business people are doing business on the phone more than ever.

Text: Erik Bouwer

What is your connection with the topic of voice?

“I’m a specialist in Presentation Training and presenter coaching for business people. So how to use your voice effectively is crucial. My company is working for different clients helping executives craft their business messages, and ensuring they get their points across effectively every time they stand up to speak.”

People present in meetings, conferences, business pitches – so learning how to communicate effectively becomes more and more important?

“A good analogy to illustrate my approach is the bicycle. If you want to travel to a certain destination on your bike, you need to put a lot of power to the back wheel – that’s what makes the bicycle move. You use the front wheel then to avoid obstacles and to control the direction. This is what I teach to business people: helping them with both back wheel and front wheel skills – you need both. The back wheel you could consider as the content, the messaging, and the structure of your presentations. Whereas the front wheel is all about how you personally direct your content using your voice, your body language and your attitude to really ‘connect’ with your audience.”

“When you are face to face with people, research tells us that surprisingly ‘words’ are only to a maximum of 10 per cent determining the communication. Three and a half times more important than what you say is how you say something – let’s say 35 per cent. Over 50 per cent of communication is build upon body language.”

However we increasingly make use of communication over the phone. For example the conference call is playing an important role as travel budgets are decreasing.

“Compared to face to face contact, in telephone conversations the biggest component in communication in communication – body language -has disappeared. We ‘re on the phone! The importance of words goes up a little bit, towards 13 per cent, but vitally, more important: the role of voice goes up to 87 per cent. With this ever increasing number of business calls the question his how we can get ourselves to be more effective with our voice? We need to develop our own Voice Signature so to speak.”

We live in a world wherein face to face communication seems to diminish.  Chat and online (or instant) messages are gaining popularity. Even contact centres are focusing on web self service. Customers are visitingthe web before buying anything. People believe that search engines provide answers to their questions. So a lot of voice driven conversations are replaced by surfing and typing. Is there an opportunity for video driven online communication?

“Phone based communication is going on to rise. Nearly 20 percent of business managers are doing four ore more conference calls a day. 37 % are doing more than a year ago – and expect it to increase. Video calls will increase too, as the technology becomes more robust. Most remembered in conference calls are the moments you dropped out, due to a bad connection or due to background noise. Compared with conference calls, video calls are often a bigger disaster. There’s a long way to go. Even if you have state of the art video conferencing equipment. In a recent series of video conference meetings I attended, eight out of ten video sessions, where they address people from different parts of the world, end up in switching to a conference call because of the technical problems! Video conferencing is on the increase, mainly because the costs of it are going down. But the providers of these services have a long way to go when many locations around the world are involved – to even get close the quality level of telephone conference calls. And they are often a nightmare too.”

What about the upcoming ‘net gen’ – which makes use more and more of pinging, instant messaging et cetera? Is text messaging replacing communication by speech?

“More communication channels are evolving. They are easy to use and are picked up even by older people. Furthermore people in general fear to stand up and speak in public – for some it’s probably their greatest nightmare. So it’s no surprise that ‘hide behind’ communication tools like e-mail and twitter are evolving. But basically these channel don’t replace anything, they just add to it.. In fact, the importance of face to face contact has increased due to the proliferance of all these channels.”

What can contact centre professionals learn from this developments – should they adapt to new channels or should they focus on the power of voice based communications?

“I think they should do both. No organization can ignore the inevitability of new media,  texting or social networking. But organizations should take into account that people are using their phones more than in the past. Technology is improving the quality of these calls. As part of the research program for speech impact, we found out that compared to the analogue era, the clarity of consonants when using hi-band telephony has improved tremendously. In earlier stages, the difference between  ‘I’m sailing’ or ‘I’m failing’ was hard to hear. Consonants are at the heart of articulation – that was discovered a long time ago, back in 1915 when the first transcontinental telephone line was installed. Professor Crandall noted in his publication “ The Power of Speech “ in 1917 that “ it is possible to identify most words in a given context without taking note of the vowels…..the consonants are the determining factor in articulation” And now in with the present high definition digital connections, consonants can be heard and understood very well. So from the productivity point of view, there should be less confusion. People are saving time because they don’t have to say ‘I didn’t hear what you said’. So, if people are spending more time on their phones, making more business calls. Acoustic intelligence, as rolled out by Plantronics, will improve this. On the other hand there still is the human component. In voice communication we recognize the four P’s: the power (how to project your voice), the pitch (varying in high and low tones), the pace (varying the speed in the pronunciation of words) and the use of pauses.”

“In the production of cars, automation has led to a record level of standardized quality. When a vehicle leaves the factory, you might expect it to be the same car as the next one. The technology has moved on and the production facilities have improved. But if you haven’t  skilled your workforce how to interact with these machines or computers, then the product that will leave the production line will be inferior. That’s what we’re talking about here in voice based communication too. You might have the latest high definition audio including all the facilities to do business on the phone, but you still should pay attention in becoming most effective in making use of these new technologies by focussing on your Voice. That is what the speech impact program is all about. People are not conscious about the implications of using their voice. In a way it’s a new revolution. Training is the solution for increased productivity of business people on the phone.”

“The proof is – at least to an extent – in the fact that Global Knowledge, which is one of the largest IT training companies in the world, decided to sign up for the speech impact program for their customers across Europe. They offer technical training, but will integrate the speech impact  program in their offer towards clients. So from now on, power to the people will include the power of voice.”

Tony Crawford is CEO of Crawford Communications, a training and consulting company that helps other companies to communicate more effectively: to customers, to analysts, to the press, channel partners, to staff. Most important aim: to ensure messages are received by audiences in the way they were intended –with clarity and creativity. Crawford is based in London and works with leading companies across Europe and internationally.


Erik Bouwer (1966) is editor of the Dutch Customer Contact Magazine. As editor in chief of Intellectueel Kapitaal – a Dutch business magazine on knowledge technology – one of his areas of expertise is social media. Bouwer worked for several years in customer service. He is a journalist since 1999.