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If you want people to listen, speak with a deeper voice

Andrew Badham 2018-10-18 08:43:24

The power of your voice is something I try to impress upon the folks in our classes. So much is said of appropriate body language and positioning in the room, yet – in my opinion – your voice is by far the more important factor. Your voice conveys how you feel about the subject matter of your discussion; it draws the listener’s attention to those parts you wish to highlight to them; it defines and represents you, the speaker, to the audience. Part of that representation is your authority, how qualified you are on the matter. This vocal denotation of authority and leadership is consistent whether you are presenting a product to an investor or leading a team. And surprisingly, this important communication of your qualification all comes down to one characteristic, pitch.

Pitch, the characteristic of how high or low a voice sounds, can make a speaker sound like an established, confident veteran or an unconfident, and perhaps even incompetent, rookie. It’s a fact that is as intuitive as it is statistically verifiable. Of course, this perception of competence is just that, perception. A person’s vocal characteristics have no bearing on any of the abilities currently relevant in the working world, except maybe the ability to influence others.

 A recent study published in Evolution and Human Behaviour looked at how pitch influenced voter behaviour. As you might have guessed, the voters went with the deeper voiced candidate. What interested the researchers was, could the deeper voice actually signal better leadership qualities? Could there be an inbuilt mechanism which helps us to select quality commanders? The unsurprising answer is no.

I certainly don’t mean to downplay the usefulness of influence and persuasion, but they are only as good as the direction they influence or persuade towards. If a charismatic leader coerces his team down an unprofitable path, they are no better off for having had the pleasure of his silver tongue.

So, why do we have this predisposition towards following these throaty thought-leaders? Perhaps it is a signal to our more primal minds that the speaker is big and; therefore, strong, so we should follow their physical superiority. A longer neck does result in a naturally deeper voice, so maybe there is some credence to that idea. I tend to think it might have more to do with maturity. As we grow and develop, our voices become deeper, richer, and we come less excitable in our vocal intonations. Perhaps when we hear a deep-voiced person we simply think, “Oh that person sounds quite adult.”

You should bear in mind that, even though a leader with a booming baritone isn’t necessarily more competent, neither is he less competent. The pitch of the speaker’s voice simply has no bearing on anything other than his ability to communicate. Nevertheless, the effect of his superior communication skills is very real. So, if we are compared to this speaker, and we are found lacking in the lower registers, we are going to come off second-best.

By this point, you may be worried that you are neither very tall nor have you smoked many cigars in your lifetime, and so could never enjoy the benefits of a deep voice. Fear not, you can train your voice to become more compellingly resonant. You might never sound like James Earl-Jones, but you can become better, and that is worth some effort. How do you become better? The obvious, and perhaps cliché, answer is practice.

It isn’t easy to instruct someone in speaking through an article alone; a coach is a far more useful medium. Nevertheless, there are some principles which can be superficially conveyed in text. One of them is to speak from your belly. Your belly is where you resonate your lower notes, much like a guitar’s box resonates the vibrations of the strings. When speaking, try to feel the words rumble about your stomach before they escape your lips. Importantly, don’t drop your chin into your chest in an attempt to speak deeper. Deep sounds come from nice long necks, so keep your head held up and your throat held open.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say – or more importantly ­– to be persuaded by your words, you need to work on your voice. If you have something worth saying, you owe it to yourself and to those who will hear your message to make sure your voice is as persuasive as possible.

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