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Do You Sound Like a Leader?

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A recent study came out that found powerful CEOs tend to have deeper than average voices, but this really only applied to men. So what kind of voices do powerful women tend to have? Do they also try to sound like James Earl Jones?

Well, actually, women do it a little differently. A small study of 10 female business leaders shows their voices are closer in pitch to the average for all women, based on a comparison with a 423-woman database by Quantified Impressions, a provider of communications analytics. The study included PepsiCo Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi, Facebook COO and author of Lean In Sheryl Sandberg, and Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer.

The study found that it isn’t all about the booming low pitch sound, but it is really all about the energy these women have behind their words. From The Wall Street Journal:

“Women leaders stand out on another measure—the amount of “vocal energy,” or variations in loudness, they use to drive home their points, the study shows. An energetic voice comes across to listeners as authentic, inspiring trust, says Carrie Goldberger, a research analyst with Quantified Impressions. And vocal energy is easily controlled by the speaker, providing ambitious people a ready tool for advancement.

“Researchers define vocal energy as variations in loudness, amplitude or intensity of a speaker’s voice. A speaker who shifts often from loud to soft tones tends to capture listeners’ interest and to come across as more passionate than one who speaks in a monotone.”

When you are confident, your voice will sound stronger. Listen to Sheryl Sandberg in our Office Hours event. Every word has emphasis and energy. When you are more nervous or unsure of yourself, your voice will reflect that. And this can be a struggle for many women and something they have to work on a lot.

But just because powerful women don’t sound like Darth Vader, this doesn’t mean you need to play up your girly voice. If you are not sure of what the girly voice sounds like, think of Kim Kardashian. A girly voice completely minimizes a woman’s power. Even former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was advised by consultants to lower her speaking voice. She took elocution lessons at the National Theatre to de-feminize her voice, and she went on to win her election. But Thatcher just had a high voice. She wasn’t cooing like a baby and giggling.

Kimberly Friedmutter, an expert on Neuro-linguistics (what the voice says the brain is thinking), said this about using the girly voice:

“When a woman, generally small in stature (or wants to be) uses a baby-esque voice, she seriously diminishes her chances of career success! Subconsciously, this is her plan. One hundred percent of the time, when I delve deeper, I find that these particular women don’t REALLY want to be in business, they really want to experience vulnerability with a man and her voice is her vehicle. ‘Baby talk worked with daddy; it’ll work with hubby.’ The problem is that one is heard as fake, phony, disconnected, etc… as opposed to the desired result of vulnerable, delicate, dainty and feminine. It’s a societal ‘miss’ and generally backfires.

“One could look at Marilyn Monroe as the perfect iconic example. Some may say that this vocal presentation was successful, she was known as the ultimate female. However, one could look at her life as one of tragedy and manipulation by men. When the manipulator was of course, Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe was the method of choice. When I see clients, the vocal and tone conversation is one of our first. When a woman looks feminine, she can afford to use her ‘real’ voice because it creates a very interesting dynamic. When a woman doesn’t appear feminine, it’s even more important she align with her real voice so that her inner effectiveness is experienced. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton whispering her way through speeches, coyly? Never!”

The girly voice may work for getting drinks or getting your water cooler changed but it is not going to help you get a promotion. And look where it got Paris Hilton.

Do you ever alter the sound of your voice to come across a certain way? Tell us in the comments!

Ask Tiffany Dufu, Chief Leadership Officer at Levo League, about women’s leadership!

Topics:

#Communication #Sheryl Sandberg #Marissa Mayer #Public Speaking Career Advice
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Also think the way women use body language to complement voice tone is really important. Some of the female leaders I admire use their hands as a tool to communicate strong messages. This can help people overcome challenges like having a quiet voice.

I agree with you Jane! There is an amazing video on Lean In about using voice, body language, etc to communicate power and authority. All the elements, even the small things down to whether you touched your hair or not...matter.

Nabia Gonzalez
Nabia Gonzalez

It is said that 90% of what we communicate is non-verbal, so of course body language is very important. Even though it might sound weird, I think drama classes are a good way to improve it, because it helps you to learn how to control your body.

Nina Sidney
Nina Sidney

I'm not quite sure where I land on the voice pitch scale, but I know I speak with emphasis. So much so that people frequently perk up as soon as I start talking about something I'm passionate about. However, sometimes that means I dominate a meeting or room more than my more shy, timid counterparts. Is this something I'll just have to learn to live with?

Also, research aside, I'm a little worried about what kind of message the "need to speak in a lower pitch" sends to people. Can men and other people not take us seriously when we speak in the tone biology may have given us? There's a world of a difference between being a Valley Girl and simply having a high voice, but what if the immediate association is "not professional?"

I am still very conscious of my voice when I conduct conference calls with clients. I make sure I sit up straight and project my voice properly. Sometimes we forget that we sound different and tend to talk differently too when we're on the phone. It's important that you allow yourself to listen to that voice on the other end of the line (get a recording if possible!) so you can come across more firm and in control when speaking to clients or potential customers.


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