High quality audio makes you sound smarter

People rated a physicist’s talk as 19.3% better when they listened to it in high (vs low) audio quality. They also thought he was smarter and liked him more.

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Thank you Norbert Schwarz (University of Southern California) for sharing another one of your excellent studies with Ariyh.

It’s a useful time to reflect (and take action) on the recorded sound quality of our voices - when many of our meetings are online.

P.S.: Norbert Schwarz does a lot of fascinating research beyond marketing. I found one psychology study he co-authored particularly mindblowing, so I thought I’d share it with you.

When we smell something ‘fishy’ (e.g. fish oil, fish sauce) we become more suspicious and less trusting (e.g. of other people’s goodwill, whether news is real).

This is due to the ‘smells fishy’ metaphor we’re ingrained with. The effect does not happen with other unpleasant smells, such as farts (yes, they really tested that).

Norbert and his colleagues haven’t yet been able to find a ‘smell of trust’, although they are trying. In his words: "As usual, evolution seems to privilege warning signals".


Bad quality audio makes us think less of the speaker and what they’re saying

Impacted metrics: Engagement | Brand attitudes
Channels: Marketing communications | Sales team | Leadership
For: Both B2C and B2B

Tip type: Existing research (March 2018)
Previous tip: Increase customer lifetime value 29.5% with "Buy 10 get 1 free" (All tips here)

Recommendation

Ensure your audio is high quality in calls, online meetings, interviews, podcasts, or any other voice recording.

For example, in a sales pitch done on a Zoom call, you should:

  • Use a podcasting or other high quality microphone

  • Use a high quality internet connection

  • Minimize background noise

People will like what you’re saying more and perceive you as smarter and more likable.

If you’re in a situation in which you can’t control the audio quality (e.g. your connection is bad), mention it. Listeners will be less negatively biased towards you.

Effects

  • When audio quality is high (vs low), people judge the content as better and more important. They also judge the speaker as more intelligent, competent, and likable.

  • In an experiment, people rated a physicist’s talk at a scientific conference as 19.3% better when they listened to it in high quality audio vs slightly distorted, echo-prone audio.

  • The effects were similar in experiments with NPR’s Science Friday interviews, where the researchers tested the same interview in high quality audio vs a simulated bad phone line (but still fully understandable).

(The effects of different audio quality on the ratings of two science talks on YouTube - Click to zoom in)


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Why it works

✋ Limitations

  • This study focused on how scientists and their research were perceived when they spoke at recorded conferences or phone interviews. The experiments did not test the effect in business contexts (e.g. a salesperson pitching on Zoom while they have a lot of background noise).

  • However, there is a solid foundation for this effect (there’s extensive research that we dislike hard to understand messages and messengers), so it’s all but certain that similar effects would be found in other situations (e.g. business meetings on Google Meet, podcasts).

Companies using this

  • The need for high quality audio recording and speakers is well understood in most large-audience professional contexts (e.g. conferences, interviews) as being important to provide a good experience.

  • It’s less clear whether speakers are aware that low quality audio makes them sound less smart, likable, and competent.

  • For example, a CEO that speaks on a Zoom call in their company’s all hands meeting using a basic headphone mic (or worse, the laptop’s mic) with background noise, is likely unaware that this hurts how they’re perceived.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • Consider providing good quality microphones (e.g. Blue Yeti) to all your employees who have frequent calls (e.g. sales, customer service, executives).

  • If you run online events with guest speakers (e.g. conferences, webinars) or interviews (e.g. podcasts), consider gifting guests a decent quality microphone ahead of the event. If you don’t have the budget, you could ask them to ship it back to you after using it. The quality of your content is bound to increase.

  • Consider consulting a sound engineer before and after recording your audio content to optimize its quality. If you don’t have the budget for that, you can try using software (e.g. Accusonus) to clean up some imperfections.

  • Don’t forget that background noise, bad connections, and terrible speakers on the receivers’ end can be just as bad as a low quality microphone.


Study type

Online experiments. United States

Research

Newman, E. J., & Schwarz, N. (March 2018). Good sound, good research: How audio quality influences perceptions of the research and researcher. Science Communication, 40(2), 246-257.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

University of Southern California and Australian National University. United States and Australia

Remember: This research could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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