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Five ways to train your voice to sound powerful

Five ways women can avoid sounding powerless at work.

by: Corie Hengst

Vocal tone can say a lot about a person. The right tone can indicate leadership, experience and confidence. Conversely, the wrong tone can convey indecisiveness, inexperience, and disinterest. In a business setting, it’s crucial to hit that perfect pitch to convey the powerful, capable woman you are.

So what tone should you be striving for, exactly? Hilary Blair, CEO and Lead ARTiculator at ARTiculate, says it’s about having a flowing, resonant voice. “The breath is allowed to freely come up, carry through, and carry the voice out,” she says. “When the breath is flowing, it’s authentic—because the breath is our emotional content.”

Here’s a rundown of five speaking habits to avoid so your voice can sound influential, yet easy on the ears. Blair emphasizes that these behaviors—relating to both vocal tone and the actual words we use—are shared by both women and men. Unfortunately, women are the ones who often get criticized for them, as a 2014 NPR article points out.

As women, we want to be regarded as the intelligent people we are, and our vocal habits can sometimes be misconstrued, adds Kathe Perez, founder and president of Exceptional Voice Inc., who teaches a course called “Powerful Women, Powerful Voice” to address this issue.

Vocal habit #1: Upswing.

Many young women have an upswing at the end of each sentence, causing statements to sound like questions. But this type of speaking can convey a lack of leadership and authority. Younger women tend to speak in an upswing to set a scene, Perez adds: “So on Monday, I was meeting with Susan about the project and how it’s going? And we got to talking about the deadlines and whether they are reasonable? And if they aren’t, how we should adjust them?” Older women, on the other hand, often use a lower tone.

“Somewhere between about [ages] 35 and 45 is who you want to be perceived as,” suggests Perez. “You want to be able to have a [tone] that is young and innovative, but you don’t want to be so young that you’re perceived as inexperienced.”

How to fix it: Lower your inflection at the end of phrases, unless you’re older, Perez says. Older women may want to speak with a bit of inflection to brighten up their voices.

Vocal habit #2: Vocal fry. 

There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about vocal fry, a type of low speaking that creates a vibratory tone. “Men and women both do vocal fry, but women get called out on it,” notes Blair. Regardless of which gender is guiltier of it, research indicates it could have a negative effect on career prospects. A study from Rindy Anderson, a biology professor at Florida Atlantic University, suggests that people who use vocal fry may be less hirable and thought of as less trustworthy, according to NPR’s article.

Women often speak with vocal fry as a result of being told they’re speaking too high. To correct it, they move to a lower octave and then create a vibrating sound. “The fry is physiologically an insufficient use of breath to power our voice, which in turn becomes an inefficient means for conveying our message and leadership,” Blair says, adding that many women revert to vocal fry subconsciously to retreat from power and avoid looking too passionate about a topic. “We’re trying to fit into a voice or a culture that seems to work,” Blair adds. We’re trying to appear laidback, not into it.”

How to fix it: Instead of constricting the muscles in your throat, make a concerted effort to let the voice float out naturally. “It should come up over your head versus out through the throat,” Blair says.

Vocal habit #3: “Laser” voice.

The laser voice—as Blair refers to it—is very intense and comes right out through the mouth, restricting the full voice. This tone lacks warmth and just “cuts through everything,” Blair says. It also doesn’t resonate easily. “Sometimes we play our voice like an electric guitar that we haven’t plugged in,” she adds.

How to fix it: Again, relax your throat muscles and let the voice flow through your body rather than only through your mouth.

Vocal habit #4: Filler words.

So, like, we need to, um, avoid filler words to, like, avoid sounding inexperienced. The problem with filler words is that when you get rid of one, another inevitably pops up. (See: literally, like, just, um, so). “It’s like Whac-A-Mole,” Blair jokes. Filler words are used in speech because “we’re programmed to be nervous about making grammatical errors,” she adds. In truth, filler words are difficult to register. They require the listener to sift through spam, in essence, to find the important message, Blair says.

How to fix it: The first step toward improvement is realizing filler words are negatively impacting your audience, Blair says. To break the habit, record yourself and note all the “ums” and “likes.” You can also enlist a friend to call you out on verbal static.

Vocal habit #5: Falsetto.

Women sometimes go into a falsetto tone when greeting someone or helping them. It’s what Perez describes as a “customer service” voice. While there’s nothing wrong with using a higher, shriller tone in certain settings, women should be aware that in a business environment, it may be perceived as cutesy. As a result, men may put themselves in a power role over you, Perez cautions.

How to fix it: Be aware of your settings and which voice is appropriate for different situations. “Same as we change our clothes, we change our voices for our spouses, our kids, our dogs,” Blair adds. “But we want to make sure we’re code-switching correctly.”

by: Corie Hengst

This article was originally published on Levo League.

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