in: Career & Wealth, Leadership, Podcast

• Last updated: March 14, 2022

Podcast #732: Tips From a Top TED Talker on How to Be Heard

Julian Treasure knows a thing or two about how to speak well. He’s given five TED talks which have been watched over 125 million times, including one on, well, how to speak well, which resides in the top ten TED talks of all time.

But as a former audio branding strategist, Julian got his start in the world of hearing, and as the title of his book — How to Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening — implies, he believes that if you really want to be a good communicator, you’ve got to learn how to be a good listener. So that’s where we begin our conversation today. Julian shares why becoming a skilled listener is so important, and the practices you can use to do so. We then segue into the vocal part of communication, and Julian shares the four foundations for powerful speaking that apply whether you’re talking in a casual conversation or on the TED stage. He discusses what separates the best TED talks from the just so-so, the breathing practice and posture cue that will improve the effectiveness of your vocal toolbox, and how to make your voice more resonant. We also discuss the physical gestures to generally avoid when speaking, including “the placater,” and a highly effective tip for refining your body language.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Now, Julian Treasure knows a thing or two about how to speak well. He’s given five TED talks which have been watched over 125 million times, including one on, well, how to speak well, which resides in the top 10 TED talks of all time. But as a former audio branding strategist, Julian got his start in the world of hearing. And as the title of his book, How to Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening implies, he believes that if you really wanna be a good communicator, you gotta learn how to be a good listener. So that’s where we begin our conversation today. Julian shares why becoming a skilled listener is so important, and the practices you can use to do so. We then segue into the vocal part of communication and Julian shares the four foundations for powerful speaking that apply whether you’re talking in a casual conversation or on the TED stage. He discusses what separates the best TED talks from the just so-so, the breathing practice and posture cue that will improve the effectiveness of your vocal toolbox, and how to make your voice more resonant. We also discuss the physical gestures to generally avoid when speaking, including “The placater,” and a highly effective tip for refining your body language.

After the show’s over, check out our show notes at AOM.IS/Howtobeheard. Alright, Julian Treasure. Welcome to the show.

Julian Treasure: Well, thank you very much. Thanks for having me, Brett.

Brett McKay: So you’re someone who’s had an interesting career. You founded the sound agency, which helps companies hone in on their audio brand, and then you became a highly successful TED speaker, so you have experience and expertise in both listening and speaking. And in your book How to Be Heard, you make the case that those two things are very connected. And you start off the book by making the case that for the benefits of being intentional with both your speaking and your listening. And I think people already intuitively understand the importance of being intentional with speaking, but they tend to neglect the importance of listening sometimes. So what are the benefits of not only being intentional about speaking, but also your listening too? 

Julian Treasure: Well, apart from anything else, I think there’s a huge benefit from becoming as conscious as possible in the way we live our lives, so conscious of what’s going on around us, noticing things and doing things consciously as opposed to what we can all go into this kind of sleepwalking, way of just bumbling along and not really noticing much. So I’m a great fan of consciousness, and I think applying it to speaking and listening is a wonderful way to enrich one’s experience of life and also to transform one’s outcomes. So in listening, it’s very, very often the case that listening is confused with hearing, conflated with hearing, and they are very different. One is a capability. You know, hearing’s a capability. We can all hear, some people have got more or less hearing damage, and there is a lot of it around, especially with headphone abuse, I think one in six American teenagers are experiencing noise-induced hearing loss as a result of hours and hours of loud music going into their ear canals and flattening those tiny little cells that allow us to hear. So there’s a big problem brewing with deafness, but leaving that aside, hearing is a capability.

 It’s built into us. Your heart beats. You breathe, you’re here. You don’t have to think about those things all the time. Listening is very different. Listening is a skill, and that’s a huge misunderstanding. It’s something that many people simply don’t think about. This is a skill that you can practice, you can improve, you can master. And there are enormous benefits to becoming a masterful, really excellent listener in life. Obviously in relationships, I mean, what’s the most common complaint in relationships? “He or she never listens to me.” And we feel hurt when people don’t listen to us, and yet how much listening do we do? So relationships, absolutely fundamental. And things like leadership, how can you lead people if you don’t listen to them and understand them and know what makes them tick? And of course, conscious listening is always the doorway to understanding. And then selling, any great salesperson will tell you that the most important part of a sales conversation is the listening, and I was just saying actually today, there’s a piece of research that was done a couple of years ago, where they found that the ideal proportions in a sales conversation of speaking to listening are something like 40 speaking to 60 listening, give or take.

Not the other way around. And so many of us when we are trying to persuade somebody of something, we go, yatter yatter, yatter, and hardly give the other person a chance to get a word in. And that’s not so effective. So listening is, it’s a fundamental part of human connection of relationship and of making happen the things you want to happen in life, and yet so many of us ignore it.

Brett McKay: Yeah, so to be heard, you have to hear.

Julian Treasure: Exactly, yes. And the basis of my work really is that speaking and listening are in a circular relationship. So it’s not a straight line, I speak, you listen, it’s a circle all the time, organic, continuous circle, because the way I speak affects the way you listen, the way you listen affects the way I speak, and the way I speak affects the way you speak as well, and the way I listen affects the way you listen and and visa versa. So, there’s all this stuff going on the whole time in a conversation, particularly face-to-face, but even as we’re speaking now. I mean, I can’t see you, but I’m listening to what you say and the way you respond to me will affect the way I respond to you, and so forth. So it’s really fundamental as part of communication to be listening, and yet so many of us are wrapped up. I mean, there’s a couple of human capabilities or tendencies which so get in the way of effective listening. One is looking good. So it’s, you know… That gives rise to things like what I call speech-writing.

 So instead of listening to you in a conversation, I would be thinking about my next brilliant bit of monologue and really not paying much attention to this inconvenient noise that’s going on in front of me, which is you talking. So, speech-writing is a pretty disrespectful way to treat other people, and it tends to give rise to the sort of non sequitur where you go, “Anyway, never mind that. Now, let’s talk about this, what I want to talk about.” And people feel pretty marginalized and upset if you do that kind of thing to them, so looking good can really get in the way of effective listening, which is a very generous, calm state to be in without all that stuff going on.

Of course, it is difficult. Listening is not easy because you think far faster than people can speak, people speak at, maybe 120 words a minute, we think much faster than that, so if you’re being with the person as they are speaking, you’re having to slow your thinking right down or… You can train yourself to be thinking productively, and in an involved way as opposed to going off and, “Oh, wonder what I might have for dinner tonight?” You know, which we can do, we can leave a conversation and just be listening to the old blah, blah, blah… “Oh, What did you just say?”

 So listening is challenging, but it’s a wonderful thing if we can get there. And then the other big thing that gets in the way of listening even more than looking good, of course, is being right. Being right is such a tendency in modern society now, always has been to a degree. So we have to be careful about that because being right can really damage our connection with other people if we are just overriding them, dogmatism, so listening, speaking, circular relationship.

And it does require work in order to become good at both of them, because there are obstacles within us and there are obstacles in society, of course. And it’s very important to be open to different listening positions and to understand that people are all different. One of the most important things in the book and in all my work is a potentially transformative realization, which is that everybody’s listening is unique, it’s as unique as your fingerprints, your voice print, your irises. Nobody listens like you do, and it’s a huge and very common mistake to make that people think, “Everybody listens like I do.”

So you speak in the way you’d like to be heard, you speak in the way you’d like to receive, but it’s not true, because we listen through all of these filters and the filters are different for each person, you’ve come a different road to this conversation today than I have, Brett. And you’re listening in a different way. I mean you’re, apart from anything else, you’re American, I’m British. There are many, many things you can think of, the culture we’re born into, the language we speak, the values, attitudes, beliefs that we accrete along the way from teachers, parents, role models, friends and so forth.

And then situationally, we may have different intentions or expectations going on. We may have emotions going on, we all know we listen in a very different way if we’re really upset or if we’re really happy, that changes our listening. Listening changes over time, depending on, Have you eaten? What’s the time of day? Are you tired? You know, I often get the graveyard slot at events when I speak on the stage, which is just after lunch, ’cause they think, Oh, he can cope with that, he’s a TED speaker, and you have to work harder at that one because everybody’s just had lunch and the bloods all gone to the gut, and they’re little bit sleepy and so forth, very different from listening at 10 in the morning after they’ve all had coffee or two. Or, five in the afternoon when they all want to go home. So listening changes over time and from person to person, and so the corollary of that really important transformative understanding that everybody’s listening is unique, the corollary of that is that you’re always speaking to a unique listening, whether it’s one person or 1000 people, there’s a listening you’re speaking into. And if you can start to ask yourself the question, what’s the listening I’m speaking into? Just practice becoming sensitive to it, that’s how you can hit the bullseye instead of missing the target altogether.

 ‘Cause a lot of mis-speaking or ineffective communication is simply because somebody hasn’t tweaked, hasn’t appreciated the listening they’re speaking into, and that affects both style, I’m gonna give you an example, it could be you’re speaking to somebody who speaks very, very slowly, like this. And if I’m speaking like this, and you know, rapping away, they’re going to feel pressured, uncomfortable, and so forth. It’s natural that… Is part of the way you listen affecting the way I speak. If you’re a very fast speaker, then I would probably speed up a little bit in order to be more in tune. It’s called mirroring, and we do it naturally to a degree, but it’s great also to become conscious. If it’s an older audience, you might change your vocabulary slightly. If it’s a younger audience, the same might apply, you might change the way you gesture, the way even you prepare and dress and the subject you’re going to talk about. And so “What’s the listening?” is a really important question to ask.

Brett McKay: So in the book, you give some practices on how to be more conscious with your listening, what are some ones that stand out to you that you think if someone started using it today, they would get a lot of bang for their buck? 

Julian Treasure: Well, the first and easiest one probably, is to spend a bit more time with silence. We don’t encounter silence very much in the modern world at all, and I think it’s really important, a couple of times a day, if you can, just for a few minutes, to sit quietly and maybe you have to go into a bathroom or a cupboard or something, or a bedroom, they’re normally the quietest room rooms in the house. And be with yourself for two or three minutes and let your ears reset because we do tend to be surrounded by noise a lot of the time, and we go a bit deaf, and we get into the habit of suppressing our consciousness of sound, simply because a lot of it’s not very pleasant. So I think silence is a great way to re-calibrate your ears. And that’s an easy one to do.

The one that a lot of people have said to me they really find powerful is a practice for communication in conversation, really, and that’s an acronym, RASA, which stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask. So, receive means actually giving the other person 100% of your attention. Scott Peck said, “You cannot truly listen to another human being and do anything else at the same time,” and I absolutely agree with that. And yet, I challenge everybody listening to this, when’s the last time you put everything down and truly listened to another person? We’re so used to partial listening, tapping away on a phone, “Yeah, no, I’m listening to you.” No, you’re sending a text, that’s different, or listening while we’re cooking or ironing or doing whatever else it is. Reading a book, watching TV, watching a movie, that’s not really listening. Really listening is 100%, and it’s something that’s really a great gift to give to somebody. So, perhaps all of you listening to this after you stop listening to this and you… The next time you engage with somebody in your family or in your work, put everything down and receive them, that means look at them, eye contact, it’s very important.

Now, in the Western world, the dance of the eyes typically is the listener will look at the speaker almost all the time, maybe 80%, maybe more. The speaker will be looking away from time to time and looking back to check that the listener’s listening. But the listener is definitely looking at the speaker, point your body at them, lean forward slightly to indicate interest, these are all cues that show that you’re receiving what’s being said.

And the A is appreciate, which is little noises or gestures which reinforce that, which show that you’re with the other person. Now, if we were on a phone call, we’d be doing a lot more of that on a podcast, on a radio show or something like that, it’s much more polite to be doing what you’re doing, which is being silent and listening. I imagine you’re nodding from time to time, but you’re not doing the little appreciate noises that we would typically do on the phone. “Oh, really? Wow, ah, that’s good.” Those kind of noises and if you’re face-to-face, of course, those little eyebrow raises, head bobs, smiles, little gestures, which show you’re engaged. So, that’s appreciate. And then we get to the S of RASA, that’s summarize. And it’s really kicked off with a very important little word, which I think it’s getting terribly abused in the world these days, that’s the word “so,” which means therefore, and it means there’s a logical sequence here, A so B.

Now, the reason I say it’s getting abused is because there’s a habit which started in your country, I think. But it’s becoming very common all over the world to start every sentence with the word “so.” And, you know, “What’s your name?” “So, I’m John.” “Oh, you’re John because I just asked you? Is that the way it works?” I’ve even seen… There are bunch of TED talks where people walk on stage and the first word they say is “so.” It kind of establishes… Maybe there’s a sort of theoretical relationship we’ve just had that’s moving onto this or something, I’m not quite clear why it works, but it’s unfortunate because the word so is a really powerful word. It’s a word that you can use to summarize the content of what’s gone before, so in the long corridor of a conversation, you can be closing doors behind you.

 “So, let me get this straight, what I understand that you said is this. Is that right?” “Yes.” “Okay, now let’s move on to the next thing.” Or in a meeting, we’ve all had the experience of meetings where huge numbers of people waste vast amounts of their life not very productively. What is it they say, meetings are places you take minutes and waste hours. Well, that’s true of meetings where there isn’t a so person going, “So guys, I think we’ve all agreed this, now we can move on to the next item on the agenda, which is that.” And if that’s not happening, the meeting can really just go round and round and become very unproductive. So, that’s the S of RASA, so. And the last A is ask. So, it’s receive, appreciate, summarize, ask. And the ask is obviously ask questions, ideally, open-ended questions, starting with why, which, when, what, where, who and so forth. Questions that do not permit the answer, yes or no.

And often people say to me, “I find it difficult to get people to listen to me,” and I always say the best way to do that is to start with questions, because if you are showing great interest in what somebody else is saying, it’s a little bit ego flattering. They feel comfortable and engaged, and you can use the questions to steer the conversation into waters that you feel more comfortable with. “Oh, that’s really interesting now that you say that. What aspect of that do you think would feed into this thing that I actually know about?” So, in that way, questions can really help you to get engaged and to have the other person listen to you. So, that’s RASA, receive, appreciate, summarize, ask, and I think it really can be very helpful to anybody who ever struggles to be heard in conversation.


Brett McKay:  I think that was really useful. So, let’s switch gears. Is that an appropriate use of so? 

Julian Treasure: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Okay, great. Now I’m gonna be all self-conscious when I say so now. Let’s switch gears to speaking, and I hope we can tap into your expertise as a TED Talker, on how we can do a better job of being effective communicators when we’re giving a public presentation. But I think maybe that some of these insights and tips you have can also apply to one-on-one conversations. So, in the section about speaking, you start off with this acronym, HAIL. What does that acronym stand for, and can you walk us through each component? Why do you think it’s a useful place to start when you’re thinking about crafting what you’re gonna say? 

Julian Treasure: Well, HAIL is four foundations for powerful speaking, and I think it’s important to understand, when you are speaking, that it’s not all about you, and to be clear about your intentions. All sound actually, going back to my audio branding life, all sound has intention, or created sound has intention, or Intention is very important with the outcome for sound. And so, I’ve seen quite a lot of people stand on stage, and it’s all about them, they want to impress people. Well, that’s a bit transparent, and people can tell if that’s what you’re about. So, it’s really important in public speaking to understand it’s not about you, it’s about the gift that you can give to other people. And it therefore, is very important to stand on firm foundations. And the four that I suggest in the book, in the TED Talk, and in all my work really, in my course, spell the word HAIL. I like acronyms ’cause I have a terrible memory, Brett. That’s the secret. [chuckle] So acronyms help me a great deal to remember what I’m doing, and especially things like this. HAIL stands for honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love. Those four things. So honesty simply mean be clear and straight in what you’re saying, so not obfuscating everything by using big words.

 I get quite annoyed when I read academic papers, for example, or particularly legal documents, with the way people write, it’s almost willfully obscure, and it’s almost proving that those people are worthwhile, because they’re hard to understand. Well, I don’t see the point in that. And there’s been a big movement over the past 20 years in simple clear language, which I think is a great thing. I love simple words, and I think that’s a really strong rule to use in communication. It’s all about getting the ball over the net to the other person. And as I said before, if you ask the question, what’s the listening, you may change your vocabulary. So honesty, being clear, being straight, of course, very important in what you say. That helps very much, I think. The A is authenticity, which is being yourself. Well, it’s a lot easier to be yourself than to pretend to be somebody else. You can be authentically yourself, and yet do things that are challenging to you. And I think a great example of that is Susan Cain, who gave a great TED Talk about the Power of Introverts. And I know Susan, she is an introvert, and she spent a lot of time practicing and being trained to give that talk, not to the point where every gesture was tutored or it became unnatural, but just doing something over and over again to become confident enough to step over the fear and do it anyway.

Well, that was her authentic. She was pretty scared doing that. She does not enjoy public speaking. I mean, she’s got very good at it now ’cause she does a lot of it, but sometimes we have to push the envelope a little bit, but without becoming inauthentic. That doesn’t mean you have to stand up on the stage and become a sort of rah-rah extrovert just because you think that’s needed. So authenticity, very important. The I is integrity, and that’s being your word, if you say it, it happens. Well, if that’s how you are in life, then your words have great weight, people take you very seriously. If you say it and it tends not to happen, then your words tend to evaporate like puddles in the sun, people don’t really take you very seriously in terms of the weight of your communication. And then the L, perhaps surprisingly, is love, and I’m not here talking about romantic love, obviously, I am talking simply about wishing people well, wishing people well. And that is a fantastic place to come from when you’re speaking, whether it’s to one person or many people. If you’re genuinely wishing the other person well, “How can I help you?”

And there’s a… I remember reading, I think it was a religious author years ago, who was in the habit of going up to strangers and saying, “How can I help you?” Well, that’s a pretty nice first question to ask, and it’s a nice intention to have, isn’t it? And I remember I was given a great exercise to do by an old guy that I used to know, which is to, instead of walking around as we do, and it tends to be that you walk around kind of frowning at people, “You idiot, get out of my way,” we think negative things a lot of the time. “God, what on earth possessed you to put those clothes on this morning?” This kind of critical monologue is going on in our heads a lot, and it’s much nicer if you walk around thinking two words, and only two words, “Bless you,” or “I wish you well,” if you want to be, I’m not talking religiously here, simply wishing people well. And if you do that, it is amazing how, after a while, you feel that you’re walking a foot above the ground, everything’s much nicer. And if you meet somebody’s eye, you might even smile at each other because you’re not frowning or grimacing at them or thinking something bad. So often, if we meet somebody’s eye in public, we look away ’cause we were just thinking a horrible thought.

 I hope this isn’t just me, by the way, [chuckle] who thinks these things, but this is natural human behavior, we tend to be quite judgmental of people who are different and so forth, and it’s important to counteract that with a practice, and this is a beautiful practice to take on. So wishing people well. And if you walk onto a stage in front of an audience and you’re focused on that, wishing them well, I’ve got something to give you, and it’s gonna help you. Well, that’s great for counteracting the nerves, because it’s not about you, it’s not about what they’re gonna think of you, it’s not about how much they’re going to like you or respect you, it’s about, can you give them a gift? And that makes life much easier.

Brett McKay: Let’s think about crafting a talk. From your experience, what makes an engaging TED Talk the most engaging? What are the TED speakers who are really able to capture an audience, what are they doing different from the ones who, they’re giving a good talk, but it’s okay? 

Julian Treasure: Well, first of all, in TED, the whole thing is about ideas worth spreading. So, a good TED talk, and I’d say that’s true of most talks you ever give, you need to have an idea and there needs to be an idea in there that’s going to move people from where they are at the beginning to a different place at the end. Now, it may be that you are setting out to inform, educate, inspire, entertain, who knows, but at the end, they should feel that something’s changed in the room, you’ve had an impact there. And so I think that’s the first and most important thing. It’s like the big light bulb thing, the, what’s your main idea? 

And as soon as you start thinking of ideas like that, there is a very important question to ask, and it’s the question that editors will ask trainee reporters all the time, and the question is, “So what?” You put yourself into the shoes of the audience and you just go, “So what? Why should I care about that? Why is that important to me?” And if you can answer that, then I think you’re a long way down the road to a great talk. Of course, content is the most important part of a talk. I asked this question to Chris Anderson when I interviewed him for the book. And people who get the book, there’s a website you can go to and listen to these interviews. And I said to him, “What’s more important, content or delivery?” and his answer was “Well, they’re both important, but if I was forced to choose, it would be content. Because I will bear with somebody who’s delivering earth-shattering content in a boring or amateurish way, but if somebody’s delivering rapid nonsense brilliantly, it’s just irritating.”

And I think that’s absolutely true, isn’t it? We probably will have the experience of seeing somebody who’s saying not very much, but doing it really, really well, you think, “What a waste. Why don’t you use that talent to say something important?” So, you’ve gotta have the content, and that is the first and most important thing for a TED Talk or for anything, whether it’s an after-dinner speech or a wedding speech, content. And there are ways to design that. Certainly asking what’s the listening is where I would start. And then brainstorming, I’m a great fan of Post-It notes and just writing down on Post-It notes everything you can think of about the idea, and then you can cluster them together, they will form into clumps, and those clumps are your main bits of content, and then you can start to organize the clumps and think about, “Well, should I start here?”

 I’m a great fan of kind of a funnel structure for a talk, where you go from the general to the specific, but you can do it lots of different ways, and there are ways of doing it which surprise and delight people. Storytelling, very important, shocking people with a question or a statement at the beginning, that’s also a very good way to start. If you walk onto a stage and say, “You’re all idiots,” that’s gonna make people pay attention, is that you have to have a pretty good reason for saying it and justifying it and being amusing with it. But when you rattle people’s cages a little bit with something like that, “We’re all going to die in five minutes,” [chuckle] you will get attention. So, you have to be able to back it up. And I’m quite a fan of the old essayist structure, which is say, say, say, say what you’re going to say, say it, and then say what you said. And actually, with the TED talk about speaking, which is the one that did so well, I did a video, which is on my website with Neil Gordon, who’s a top US speaker coach, where we kinda pulled the thing apart.

This was about half an hour, I think, of us doing that, where I kept stopping it, and I said, “Okay, what I did there is this, and what we could have done is that, and the reason that worked is this.” And so with that TED Talk, I started off by saying the human voice is, the instrument we all play. And I think I ended up saying pretty much the same thing at the end. And I did the same thing, I’m sure, with the one on listening. So, it’s a very good idea to start with a kind of strong statement at the beginning. There’s also cadences you can use. I mean, that cadence I used at the beginning there, the human voice, da da da da, “I have a dream,” If those four syllables can be a very strong way of starting a talk with a strong statement or with a question, and it’s a cadence people are pretty familiar with.

 So, all these things can be folded in, and then of course, you want to think about, how does this flow over time? How long is it going to be? Short is good. TED, they only give you 18 minutes, and there’s a reason for that. For the classic TED Talk being 18 minutes, the reason is that it’s too long to bask it, you can’t just walk up and make it up on-the-spot, but it’s too short to give your usual hour-long lecture or whatever it is for most of the people who do TED. So, you have to think about it, and it has to be specifically made for the stage. I think my first TED Talk actually was six minutes, that first TED University talk on sound, and I seem to remember I did deliver it quite quickly, but it’s very important not to gabble, and I’m sure we can come on to some of the aspects of the vocal toolbox in a moment. So, content is king. Having said that, it’s a shame to have riveting brilliant content and deliver it in a very tedious way that sends people to sleep.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about it. So the content, I think the big idea there is, have a big idea, that’s important. Try not to have too many ideas. I think we’ve all been in talks where people… Or the speaker is trying to convey lots of complex ideas that no one’s gonna remember that. So have one big idea, repeat it over and over again, use storytelling to buttress it if you need to, but have that big idea. Let’s talk about delivery. How do we deliver that content? Talk about the voice, first off. What are some things people can do to be more effective with their vocal toolbox? 

Julian Treasure: Yes, I talk about the vocal toolbox, it’s a kind of metaphor for all of the aspects of the voice that we don’t really think about very much because this voice that we all have is an amazing instrument. It’s the instrument everybody plays, and yet we’re not taught how to use it. This is the thing that drives me nuts. We teach reading and writing at school, but we do not teach speaking, hardly at all. More in your country than ours, but it is very focused on public speaking, I think, and even less do we teach listening, hardly at all, anywhere. And yet, speaking and listening are the most primal and effective modes of human communication. I know you can’t publish these things quite in the same way you can publish the written word, and certainly books have changed the world in dramatic ways. But now we’ve got audio and video to the degree we have. It’s even more important because there are YouTubers out there who are influencing millions and millions of people, and the way they speak is a big part of that, I should imagine.

So let’s talk about the vocal toolbox a bit. First and foremost, I’d say the simplest and the most important thing to do is breathing. Your voice is just breath, that’s all it is, it’s breath coming through your vocal cords and resonating them, and you’re controlling that, and then you resonate that voice in various chambers of your head and your chest, and so forth. So it’s just breath. I wonder how many people listening to this have a breathing practice. Maybe some of you do Prana yoga. Maybe some of you exercise and enjoy that sort of rhythmic breathing that comes with aerobic exercise. But not many people, in my experience, treat it as a breathing practice, and we tend to breathe in a very shallow way most of the time.

So, taking a huge deep breath is a wonderful thing to do for yourself. It’s also a great antidote to nerves. If your voice goes a bit like this when you’re going on stage, a big deep breath will really settle that down. It’s the fuel for your voice as well. So, without a deep breath, you can’t speak so well. And of course, it counteracts something which I’ll mention when we talk about different registers, which is vocal fry, which again, I have to say, [chuckle] I think originated in the USA.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Julian Treasure: Talking like this, it’s a very croaky way to talk, yeah, really, really good. And it’s not particularly attractive to listen to. The research shows that it’s not considered attractive or intelligent by people. People who speak in vocal fry are considered less hireable, less intelligent, less capable and less strong. There’s lots of lesses in the way that it lands.

So, if you get into that habit, and it is just a habit, we’ve all got a voice, I think one of the saddest things about vocal fry is that it’s really ignoring the huge capability of this wonderful voice we have. So it’s all about breath, really. If I don’t breathe very much, I can get vocal fry like this. It doesn’t take much breath, and I don’t breathe much at all. Whereas, if I take a deep breath, then suddenly I’ve got the ammunition to speak and use the whole capability of my voice. So, breathing is very important. A nice breathing practice, breathe in through your nose, and then breathe out through your mouth, pursing your lips as if you’re going to whistle and practice length in count as you do those things, and practice lengthening the count day after day. You don’t have to do it for hours, just a minute or two. And at least you’re starting to explore the limits and push the limits of your lungs and get them really working for you. So breathing.

 And then the other thing I’d mention, which I think is really important, is posture, and many people don’t pay much attention to this. We all sit far too much. I think there’s lots of stuff out there about sitting being the new smoking or whatever. Sitting is not tremendously good for us. We weren’t designed to sit on chairs. And a lot of us sit on chairs for six, eight, 10 hours a day, even longer than that. Sometimes we get home and sit down again. So, posture tends to fall by the wayside, especially if you’re leaning forward and looking at a screen that’s below you, your head is tipped forward, your spine is tipped forward, and we get into a kind of stoop, which becomes very common. And the important thing to realize about the voice is that your vocal cords need to be vertical to work properly.

 So if I lean my head right forward, you can hear the effect it’s got on my voices. I stretch my vocal cords equally if I put my head back in my shoulders, I’m compressing my vocal cords and that’s not great either. So, in order to speak effectively, you need to have a relatively vertical posture, certainly for the top half of your body, even if you’re sitting. The easy way to do that is to use a visualization that I use whenever I go on stage or when I’m doing webinars or whatever it may be, sitting in front of a camera, which is to imagine that there’s a string attached to the top of your head and everything is hanging from that string, so that it automatically puts your shoulders back and down. If you’re standing up, it makes everything vertical, and it gives you pretty immediately a much nicer posture where your vocal cords are vertical. And if you’re standing on a stage, it looks strong as opposed to leaning on one side or having a leg copped or looking a little bit sort of off center or with one shoulder higher or whatever it may be that we get into the habit of doing. And that can happen to us, you have a bag on one shoulder for years and that shoulder goes up eventually. So, string in the top of the head, let the shoulders go down, and it’ll really help the voice.

And then let’s just talk about register for a moment. There are actually four registers of the human voice, but the one… We’ve already talked about vocal fry, I strongly advise not to use. There’s another… The whistle register is way up high. I can’t even do it. You have to be a professional singer with an incredible range to get up there, so let’s leave that aside. So modal is where we tend to hang out, and that’s the register that I’m speaking in now, and in modal, you can move your resonance by practicing. So of course, your vocal cords are where you make the voice, but the voice can resonate in different chambers and the biggest resonating chamber you’ve got in your body is the chest, so that’s the one to practice, because we tend to vote for politicians with deeper voices, and that’s because deep means big, generally. Big things have deeper voices than little things. We take big things more seriously, so there’s a kind of long, long genetic appreciation that deep means authoritative and that’s an association that we all have, pretty much.

So in order to do this, you wanna… If you speak in your nose like I am now, that’s, you know, fairly light, and I can speak in my throat, and that’s where I tend to speak a lot of the time from. But if I move it down and speak from my chest, you can hear the difference. I’m now resonating in my chest, and the way to check that is to put your hand on your sternum, on the chest bone and feel the vibration and practice working on that so that you feel that more and more in what you’re speaking. So it’s not an exercise where you’re trying to… You don’t want to go down here and speak in a really strange way. I’m not talking about being unnatural with this. If you practice with that hand-on sternum exercise, you can start to resonate, use that big chamber that you’ve got and make your voice more and more authoritative for when you need that. You don’t necessarily need that all the time. “Good morning, darling. Would you like a coffee?” It’s perhaps not necessary, but when you do need it, it’s there, and you can exercise that deeper voice. So they’re some of the aspects of the vocal toolbox, there’s plenty more in there.

Brett McKay: What about body language? I know that when people do public speaking, [0:42:06.2] ____ really self-conscious about how they’re using their hands or what are they, who are they looking at, any tips there? 

Julian Treasure: Well I expect I will walk on stage again at some point in the future. When I do, body language is very important. I talked about posture, and that’s a big part of it, standing in a way that’s not distracting, eliminating physical ticks, that’s really important. I’ve seen many people walk around and around in a tiny circle as they’re speaking and you just think, “Why are you doing that?” It’s things like that can be very distracting, or people who will walk three paces to the right and speak a bit and then walk three paces to the left and speak a bit, and they keep doing that. And after a while, the audience is going, “Is he going to… Oh, there he goes again. Oh, he’s off again.” And these things can become distracting if they have no meaning. So I think the key thing when you’re on a stage in front of people is to be conscious about everything you’re doing. That’s one of the reasons why I love speaking in public, actually, because it’s one of the times when I’m most present, most conscious. I’m really making an effort to think. It’s not so much planning everything as being conscious of what you’re doing.

There are things to learn, and there are certain gestures which are to be avoided, and others which can be very powerful. One example of that, a gesture, which I would suggest people probably wouldn’t want to use is one called the placater. This is one of the archetypal gestures that goes along with a junior status, sort of archetypal relationships, and the placater is an open hand, both hands, palms up in front of you and open and waving. And that’s a kind of begging gesture, that’s saying, “I have no weapons, I’m not gonna hurt you.” It’s a kind of “please” gesture.

 Now, I’ve seen people give entire talks with their hands doing that, and that’s not what they meant to convey, but that’s what they are conveying with that body language. So if you happen to like having your hands out in front of you and waving them to emphasize points, then my suggestion would be rather than palms up, turn them sideways so the thumbs are up. You can still do exactly the same gestures. And you’ll see a lot of politicians… Now, I’ve mentioned that if you watch them speaking, a lot of politicians will do that, they’ll be gesticulating with both hands, emphasizing points, thumbs up, fingers vertical, no begging there, it simply is an emphasis gesture. So, now that’s a good example of why it’s important to become conscious about the way that gestures tend to land with people. Pointing at people is quite threatening, and that’s one you want to be really careful about. It’s kind of the blamer when you point at an audience.

So be careful using that kind of thing, and I think with all body language the key is to make it congruent with what you’re saying. I mean, if you are asking people for a generous donation to something, then hands out, palms up, absolutely appropriate. So I’m not saying never use that, it’s just, when is it appropriate to use that kind of thing. I’ve done trainings in public speaking over the years, lots of them, and some of them multi-day efforts, where for two or three days, you are not allowed to use your hands at all. You had to stand with your hands by your sides and speak to people. And that’s quite challenging, but it does teach you to become conscious with what you’re doing when you use your hands as opposed to waving them about. Now, some people are very hand-wavy and that’s authentic for them, as long as it’s congruent, it’s authentic, and it’s putting across the message, and it’s not putting people off, I think that’s absolutely fine. So you want to be yourself, but a good tip with all of this stuff really is video yourself. You can just do that with a phone these days. It’s so easy, set a phone up, video yourself speaking and watch it back, and I guarantee you’ll be going, “Oh my goodness, I never knew I did that.” So asking yourself the question, is that useful? Is that amplifying my message or getting in the way of it? That’s the key to that kind of body language.

Brett McKay: Well Julian, we’ve covered a lot of ground today. Is there some place people can go to learn more about the book and your work? 

Julian Treasure:  Sure, yes. Well, is my website, and as I say, there’s a free download on there of this analysis Neil and I did of my top seven of all-time TED Talk, so it’s pulling that apart and asking why was that so popular? And I think there’s a lot of really valuable lessons in there, so if people pop by, that one, you can download. The book’s available from all the usual places and in both print and audio, but which I narrated. And I was very proud that that won both of the two big global audiobook prizes for best business audiobook, ’cause we recorded that in a tiny little studio up here in Orkney where I live off the north coast of Scotland. So it was kind of cottage industry, and it was a source of great pride to us that we managed to win the awards there. So yeah, there’s the book, there’s a course as well, which you can access through the website, which is a full seven and a half hours of everything I know about speaking and listening. And of course, if you sign up to the list then I do a little weekly audio blog, five minutes a week, just exploring a little topic and that goes out free to everybody on my list. So be delighted to see anybody. And [email protected], if you want to contact me, be delighted to hear from you.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Julian Treasure, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Julian Treasure: Thank you so much. It’s been a great pleasure being with you.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Julian Treasure. He’s the author of the book, How To Be Heard. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at his website, Also check out our show notes at AOM.IS/Howtobeheard, where you can find links to resources, and we delve deeper into this topic.


Brett McKay: Well, that wraps up another edition of AoM podcast. Check out our website at, where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AoM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to, sign up, use code “manliness” at checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AoM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review at Apple podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to AoM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.


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