Invisible, elusive yet fundamental, the voice is an impactful tool of communication.
Recently, in a discussion with American opera singer and performance coach Laura Baxter, we talked about the impact of the voice on women in leadership positions. “The voice is everything.”She said. “It is the voice —not the body language —that creates emotion. A full, rich voice conveys confidence and competence. It says, ‘Here I am. I own this space.’
Imagine this: a woman walks into the room dressed to the nines. She looks gorgeous in every sense of the word and all eyes are on her. Then she opens her mouth to speak and a high, peepsy, Minnie Mouse voice comes out. Everyone in the room has to stop and readjust their image of this woman. The voice matters, and it matters big.”
For Guida Bulha, Principal of Safari Vocal and certified trainer in vocal expression, the voice translates one’s « état d’être » : Joy, fear, anger, sadness…the voice is one’s identity, it conveys one’s history. « From its very early days, a fœtus is already able to connect with his mother ‘s voice »says Guida.
She reminds us how a calm deep voice is reassuring and credible. As an example, she recalls the French presidential debate between Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007: On that day, Royal not only lost her temper but she completely lost a chance to become the first French President at the same time.
Another example Guida gives is the following: Every year, Forbes publishes the list the World's 100 Most Powerful Women. Out of the 10 first women in 2013 and 2014 only one has a fuller voice: Mary Barra. Still, she is the first female head of a Big 3 automaker! And while her voice is a little fuller, she inspires self-confidence and authority.
According to Laura, society has certain subconscious expectations of how the voice of someone in a leadership position should sound. We believe that a person with a deep voice is more intelligent, competent and pleasant. We want to be around this person, and we want to follow this person. We consider this person to have leadership qualities. On the other hand, if someone has a high, thin, peepsy voice, we tend to think that this person is unintelligent, naive, and insecure. We would far rather make fun of this person than follow him or her « Because of these societal expectations, women in leadership positions try to copy their male colleagues »says Laura. « This leads to them seeming unauthentic, ineffective and often insecure ».
In our conversation, Laura said that there are three most common mistakes that women in leadership positions make with their voices:
1) They try to speak unnaturally low to appear more authoritative
2) More often than men, women business leaders end their sentences in an open cadence and,
3) They tend to speak more softly instead of filling the room with their voice and owning it.
Mistake #1: Pressing the voice in order to speak lower
Society expects leaders to have clear, deep, full voices. What constitutes a deep, full voice, however, is often different than what we think. We believe that men speak lower in pitch than women, they automatically have an advantage in this area. This is, however, a myth. What gives your voice depth and authority —male or female —is the over- and undertones that you generate. These are what make your voice round and full, and these are what make the voice seem deeper and richer. The way that we activate the over- and undertones is through vocal training and a basic understanding of how the voice works. It is possible for each of us to have a full, rich voice, and it worth working on it to achieve this!
Mistake #2: Open Cadence at the end of the sentence
An open cadence is when the voice goes up or lifts at the end of a sentence. We do this for one of several reasons. One reason that this may happen is that the speaker wants to appear sympathetic or understanding. Another reason is that the speaker feels insecure, or yet another reason could be that the speaker simply is using the wrong posture. Unfortunately, however, when this happens, the result is that we appear to be asking a question instead of making a statement. This confuses your listener and leaves them not knowing how to respond to you.
Mistake #3: They don’t own the room and fill the room with their voice
Women are more likely to try to find compromises than their male counterparts. They are also more likely to take a back seat to their counterparts. This often means that they don’t stand up and own the room. They tend to speak softly in order to be polite (or because they don’t believe that they should take the stage!), and as a result, their voices —both in the sense of their actual voices and in the sense of their opinions —are not heard.
Article brought to you by Maguy Sicuro, Managing Director of SICURO EVENTS and VP Membership for MPI French Switzerland Chapter.
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