Elixir of Persuasion: Voice over the Written Word

Strategy Matters[su_dropcap style=”flat”]S[/su_dropcap]CENARIO: you’re trying to convince someone to buy your product or possibly even hire you for a key position, what’s the best method to successfully close the deal? Should you focus on a carefully crafted written document, detailing why you’re a better choice than the competition? Or what about a face-to-face or phone call, where you can use your voice to influence the outcome? Some of you are probably thinking … well, it depends on the situation or maybe a combination of methods to close an important deal.

To dig deeper into this topic, a recent study was conducted that involved 162 adult evaluators tasked with interviewing 18 MBA students for a fictitious job position (Schroeder & Epley, 2015). The evaluators were asked to assess the students for hiring purposes. The students (job candidates) used three different interview mediums to appeal to the evaluators: video, audio (spoken word), and written text.

While somewhat predictable, the results were nonetheless interesting:

Evaluators who saw the videos appeared to be more favorably impressed, but there was no statistical significance between the evaluations of video and audio“

– according to the researchers. In other words, voice was more effective than text to influence the person on the receiving end. The results offer evidence that the candidate appeared more intelligent, likable, and employable when heard, rather than by submitting a prepared text. Inferring from the results, it reasons that the evaluators were able to sense the candidate’s intangible qualities through video and voice, i.e., the passion, conviction, and first impressions. It is interesting that audio can be almost as effective as video while evaluating the other person. I am reminded of how an audio book can be more stimulating than text when spoken by a reader who can put feeling into the written word. The radio filled this role in the pre-television days, when audiences got pulled into riveting stories with all types of special sound effects far differently than from reading a book.

VoiceWhile most of us would correctly pick the most effective medium – that being video or audio over text – what strikes me as odd is why so many individuals – whether interviewing for a job or trying to close an important business deal – take a passive approach (text only) in business settings. And why do so many decision makers on important matters rely on written text in lieu of listening to the spoken word? Walter Isaacson in his biography on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs described the aversion toward large presentation decks that delivered quantity over quality in critical analysis (Isaacson, 2011). Instead, Jobs preferred the white board as a medium to capture direct two-way conversation to address fundamental questions. In other words, directly answer my question (or draw me a picture) with compelling, simple to understand logic to persuade me to act. This is about being able to connect to others on very basic terms involving complex matters. It requires that we know the subject matter well enough to take a step back, examine the big picture, and lay out a simple-to-follow delivery while anticipating the need to speak to basic questions on the why and how (Bornhofen, 2014).

Putting this study in a business context, several questions come to mind. For instance, most salespeople know how critical the introduction and closing phases are to sealing a deal, how the spoken word can be persuasive on customers, yet why then do so many rely on email or traditional mail for an important deal? Or why does the recruiting industry tend to rely on quantitative methods based on key word matches while ignoring intangible factors (e.g., attitude, conviction, & motivation) that need to be sensed? (I know, too many resumes to review manually, but what about the risk of omitting a perfect fit whose quantitative score falls short?).   At the risk of sounding naïve, I argue that we need to re-examine the mediums used to drive important decisions. If trust and attitude are so important, as many business leaders claim, then why not put more emphasis on using our voice (and ears) to sense and act on intangible factors?

As an Adjunct Professor who teaches in the online (Internet) environment, I use a combination of live video & desktop sharing, weekly video broadcasts, and podcasts to bring life to students. The more I can “touch” the student, the better. Video and audio are part of my tool box to strengthen the ability to communicate, to connect with and achieve desired outcomes far more effectively than the written word. This same realization needs to apply more to the broader business world, where customer service & people interaction contribute to strategic growth.

In closing, a subtle reminder is given to reinforce what we know to be true (but sometimes forget): cut back on the lengthy emails while relying more on what we say, hear, and observe as a means to connect with others. Doing so will differentiate us in positive ways and contribute to our ability to be achieve successful outcomes.


– Bornhofen, R. (2014). If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. Bizcatalytst360. Retrieved from

– Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster.

– Schroeder, J. & Epley, N. (2015). The science of sounding smart. Harvard Business Review. October 7, 2015. Retrieved from


Dr. Robert Bornhofen
Dr. Robert Bornhofen
Dr. Robert Bornhofen is a scholar-practitioner with over 25 years of experience. As a scholar, he currently teaches strategy at Cornell University and the University of Maryland Global Campus. As a practitioner, his corporate career includes a variety of leadership roles at Fortune 500 companies IBM, Delta Air Lines, & Citibank. Dr. Bornhofen earned his Doctorate degree at the University of Maryland, a Master of Science degree from Colorado State University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota. As a conference speaker, Dr. Bornhofen presents at various industry forums. His current focus is on innovation within the water utility sector. As a researcher and author, Dr. Bornhofen published over 20 papers on topics related to innovation strategy. Passionate about change, Dr. Bornhofen embraces the creative spirit that goes into problem-solving, where smart people come together to transform great ideas into extraordinary outcomes. His articles reflect this passion and desire for continuous learning.

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