5 words can change how an audience reacts to your presentation

A new study finds that your audience cares not just about what you say, but also how you say it, reports Jessica Stillman for Inc.

To conduct the study, researchers at Tulane University analyzed more than 50,000 earnings calls conducted by CEOs, where investors have a chance to learn about the company's performance and ask questions. Separately, researchers also conducted simulations of research calls with fictional executives and asked more than 250 participants about the investment decisions they would make based on the calls.

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Researchers found that when CEOs used first-person pronouns such as, "I," "me," "my," "us," and "we," the investors felt better about the news delivered during the earnings call.

Why? The researchers hypothesize that using these pronouns gives investors the impression that the CEO is more in control of the company's prospects, even if that is not true. However, other experts believe that perhaps the pronouns made the CEOs seem "nicer" because of the self-inclusive nature of the pronouns, Stillman writes.

"The way I interpret it is that the manager's coming across as more human," James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Wall Street Journal when asked about the study.

Stillman suggests using these same pronouns—"I," "me," "my," "us," and "we"—in situations outside of earnings calls as well, such as in a presentation, meeting, or conference call. Stillman argues that the words may help you win over your audience and emphasize your personal commitment to your organization (Kassel, Wall Street Journal, 8/6; Stillman, Inc., 8/8).

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