“It’s not what you say, but how you say it!”
I have come across many competent women in business. They look good, they know their stuff and run highly successful businesses. But when they open their mouths, they let themselves down.
One of the popular reasons given for seeking my services is that my client wants to develop ‘gravitas’. One experienced woman business owner told me that her voice was too light and feminine to command attention. Since she inhabited a particularly male dominated environment, she needed to have a deep voice to be credible.
On 30th May 2008, a report published by research commissioned by Post Office Telecoms, worked out who had the ‘perfect voice’ and what it sounded like. As reported by the BBC it was found that the best female voice was a mixture of Mariella Frostrup, Dame Judi Dench and Honor Blackman. All three ladies, you will note, have deep and resonant tones.
The report went on to say that the voices that had greatest endorsement were those that conveyed certainty, confidence and trust.
Even though women are making inroads into traditional attitudes, the Karren Bradys (former MD of Birmingham City Football Club) and Deborah Meadens (Dragon’s Den) of this world are highly visible because they are exceptions, not the rule. When I was Regional Director of The Athena Network a women’s business networking organisation, I was all too aware that even in the 21st century, women in business need greater confidence to speak out, to make an impact, to win the argument, win the contract and gain attention and influence in the marketplace.
So how to develop the perfect voice which conveys this certainty, confidence and trust?
A relaxed outlook is the foundation for a good voice. Our voices are at a vulnerable crossroads between the inner and outer self. As well as delivering the words, they also communicate the feelings – nuances of ease or unease behind those words, for the most part unconsciously. When people are uncertain of their reception, their voices can become tense. In women, our voices become shrill and high when we get stressed. Stressful voices jar and can make the listener resistant to the message. This is a particular issue for men to listen to since their wiring means that they have difficulty absorbing the higher registers of a woman’s voice. It’s even more unfortunate in the fashionably stark business environment of wooden/laminate flooring and hard surfaces which amplify higher resonances and dampen deeper ones. When networking in a room with 50 people and especially at conferences and trade shows where the male voices are likely to dominate, the temptation is to increase your pitch.
How amazing our voices are! The instrument that produces a sound to fill the Albert Hall is the size of a postage stamp.
So when giving a presentation, a typically stressful activity, we woman need to be aware of how to fill the room comfortably. A common mistake is to speed up, raise the pitch and push the sound out from the throat. Again the danger as a woman, is that you are likely to sound shrill and harsh – or even worse, indistinct or breathy. Which destroys gravitas in an instant.
As women our voices are particularly vulnerable to hormonal changes. During the menopause, pregnancy and in menstruation our voices are likely to become huskier. This can sound appealing though is far more open to misuse and infection.
Good advice on voice care is published by The British Voice Association.
So to command attention in the business world therefore, women need to be ready to project their voices dynamically. They need to develop deeper tones to their voices, pace their delivery and use pauses. Women need to command attention and respect to make an impact and develop their personal brand. This will help women gain influence to drive through lasting changes in attitude.
As Mae West (a woman I have always respected and admired) points out, it isn’t what you say that makes the desired impact; it is in how your deliver your message that you will be judged.