Your voice has a natural pitch, which makes it easy to speak, is comfortable for your
body and pleasant to hear. When you try to change your pitch, for whatever reason,
you can get yourself in trouble.
I am working with a female client who told me that she has heard that if she speaks
in a lower voice she will seem more authoritative. I don’t buy that! We all should
speak in our optimum pitch; this is where your voice is not too high or low – FOR
YOU. You’re not squeaking your voice or having it so low that we only hear a rumble.
Your voice is free of tension and you’re not hoarse after speaking. Your optimal
pitch is where you speak easily with very little tightening in your throat.
How to find your optimal pitch
Say ‘aaah’ . Try to vary your pitch up and down. How does it feel when you speak
higher? How about when you go lower? Can you imagine speaking in that lower
voice all day long? Pretty tough, I’d say!
Where it all began
Renowned vocal pedagogue, Patsy Rodenburg, was working with actresses in the
‘70’s who were asked to play men’s parts. The actresses just assumed that they
could lower their voice and would be transformed into a man. In the book, Well
Tuned Women, (The Women’s Press Ltd., 2000), Patsy writes “As I worked on this
problem I began to realize the signals communicating maleness were connected to
every physical aspect of power and the relationship to power. This power is
expressed through body, breath, voice, speech and the use of language.”
Not just for women
I have worked with men who feel that they don’t exude much authority in the
workplace. Please take this information and use it as well. My point is that there are
other more significant ways to gain authority than lowering your voice.
Taking up space
When I work with a client, male or female, I discuss body alignment and posture. If
you are making yourself small by shoulders hunched, your body is collapsed and
you are looking at the ground in what I call a ‘down and in’ position, it is as if you’re
waiting for some predator to grab you by the neck and take you away! However, if
your chest is open, head held high and you’re looking out at the world which I call an
‘up and out’ pose, you feel more confident.
Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School. She noticed that there were two kinds of students: one who would enter the classroom with shoulders hunched, looking at the floor and not wanting to engage. The other came into the room with their chest open, looking at the world and taking up space. In her Ted Talk she calls this a High Power Pose. She suggests creating this with your arms either out over your head in a ‘v’ shape or hands on hips a la Wonder Woman or Superman. Her students adopted the pose for two minutes and they felt more confident. Once my clients have tried it out and experience the confidence themselves, I advise them to always maintain the high power pose. Not the actual arms overhead pose, unless of course, that’s your jam, but rather, after two minutes drop their arms and feel that extra space they’ve created within their body.
Body language indicates a heck of a lot about a person. Standing with feet shoulder
width apart, in an up and out pose makes you feel confident. Sitting cross-legged,
thighs tight together and hunched over the boardroom table makes you look small
and tense and not too comfortable. Your body is telling us that you just don’t want to
be there. When you’re sitting around the boardroom table have your feet flat on the
floor and your spine straight and see how you’ll feel. If you can’t reach the floor with
your feet then adjust your chair.
When we are born, we breathe deep into our lungs, but through the years, out of
habit, stress or fear, we take shorter breaths from our upper chest. We often take
short breaths because we don’t want to assume our full power. We just want to
quickly say what we have to and then allow someone else to speak.
When you inhale visualize dropping your breath deep into your lower abdomen.
This calms you down and helps to slow down your speech.
By the way when you’re in an ‘up and out’ pose, you can actually breathe deeper
than a ‘down and in’ pose.
This is something that many caregivers adopt. They speak really quietly to give
comfort. That works when you need comfort but not when you’re out there giving a
presentation. You have to be heard. But if you think your opinions aren’t worthy,
you just don’t want to say much because you feel like you might be wrong.
When you are going to give a presentation and you’ve been previously told that you
speak quietly, ask a colleague to stand in front of you. Tell her/him a few lines of
your speech. Gradually ask your colleague to move further away from you. Can
she/he still hear you?
Some of us feel the need to keep talking. I suffer from this too. Just ask my dear
husband! Have you ever listened to a speaker and were amazed at the pauses?
Pausing when you speak gives you time to take a breath and gather your thoughts. It
also allows the listener to register with what you’ve just said and most importantly
makes you look like you are in control. That gives you power.
Look at your listener
Remember when you were young and you did something wrong and got caught?
If you were reprimanded by your Mom, where did you look? Probably at the ground.
You were guilty and tried to avoid your Mom’s disapproving eyes! The more you
look at the person the more comfortable you’ll be. When you look someone in the
eye, like a member of the audience, you form a connection and the audience member
feels important. And you feel comfortable and exude authority.
It might be really difficult to go into the boardroom and start looking people in the
eye when you’re not used to. Start small. Talk to your kid’s basketball coach or the
Skip the Dishes delivery person and look them in the eye.
Own your words!
This is an obstacle for many of us, me included. Before you are about to speak,
whether you are meeting a new member of the team, answering a question at a Q
and A, or about to give your key note speech, take the time to gather your thoughts.
When you are speaking, you are the boss, regardless if you are the CEO or not! Just
like commanding your pet or talking to your children about the benefits of going to
bed, you are in charge!
Of course like anything, the more you practice the more comfortable you’ll feel.
My mission is to help you find your voice. It’s the most natural and comfortable
speaking voice that you can have. When you find it, everything else about public
speaking flows with ease.