Do You Sound Like A Leader?

You might be hurting your credibility as a leader every time you open your mouth, and it’s not what you’re saying. It’s your voice.

Originally published on Forbes
Like A Leader

A study in affiliation with Duke University analyzed 792 male CEO voices and found that a deeper voice was advantageous in positions of leadership. Results indicated that CEOs with lower voices had longer tenure, led larger companies, and made more money — to the tune of $180K+ per year.

This research poses a bit of a conundrum. What if you don’t have a low voice? Does that mean you’re doomed not to rise in the ranks of leadership? Fortunately, there are a number of other factors in the vocal realm that contribute to your credibility as a leader, and these factors are far more controllable than how deep your voice is.

Another study conducted at Gonzaga University revealed that a variety of vocal factors influence whether a speaker is perceived as trustworthy — and therefore credible. Regardless of the pitch and tone of your natural voice, these important factors can be controlled and practiced:

Articulation (clear pronunciation of words). An articulated vocal performance reflects a thoughtful representation of the speaker’s inner conviction, and thus leads to the perception of a more educated and credible speaker. Articulation can be improved by repeating difficult words until one can say them correctly; slowing down your speech can also make articulation easier. Beware, however — over-articulation can produce a less than normal speaking tone and therefore reduce credibility.

Fluidity (flow of your message). The more fluidity with which one speaks — that is, the more you don’t have to reach for your words — the more expert and confident you are perceived, engendering trust. This takes us back to the dreaded "ums" and "ahs" we work to eliminate in public speaking scenarios, podcasting and audiobooks. Rather than filling the air in a conversation or meeting with such "thinking noises" or hedges ("sort of" or "kind of"), be intentional and transparent regarding your thinking process. If posed a question, pause and make eye contact with your listeners and take a moment to answer their question with, “let me think about that for a moment.” Doing so indicates that you’re taking their question seriously and giving it your full attention.

Tempo (speed at which you speak). This vocal cue is closely tied to gaining and maintaining the attention of the listener. No one likes to hear a boring, slow delivery; monotone presentations tend to put people to sleep or move them to distraction. Keep energy and interest alive in your voice when speaking and your listeners will remain more engaged.

On the other hand, speakers who speak too fast can end up slurring their words, affecting the articulation and clarity of their message. A speaker’s “normal” rate of delivery has been found to rank the highest in perception of credibility. In other words, it’s important to “be yourself” when communicating. Note that both tempo and fluidity can be improved by bringing increased attention to your breath. Make sure that you’re actually breathing as you speak, and not inadvertently holding your breath.

Sonority (pleasantness of one’s voice). Several factors can contribute to sonority, but one controllable, contemporary factor is known as "vocal fry" and refers to the low, vibratory sound occurring particularly in women at the end of spoken sentences. A study published in 2010 analyzed 800 male and female participants who spoke with vocal fry, or "creaky voice," and found them to be less desirable job candidates compared with those speaking in a normal tone. Take note and eliminate this vocal trend before it spreads any further. Please.

Another common vocal pattern that deeply impacts credibility but is one of the simplest to identify and address is "uptalking" the end of sentences. Uptalk sounds like you’re making everything a question? As if you’re not sure what you’re saying? And that makes what you say hard to trust? Focus on making your statements more declarative.

Do all of these factors leave you feeling overwhelmed about perfecting your vocal delivery? Don’t sweat it if you can’t change them all — not everyone was born with a deep or pleasant voice. Of all of the aforementioned influencing factors, articulation was found to be the most important — so if you have a big impending speech, start by practicing using clear and careful pronunciation. Through external feedback, objective coaching, and diligent practice, you can become a better communicator and perhaps even a bigger earner.

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