How your voice impacts your Executive Presence
Communication is listed as key to establishing a strong executive presence and can make or break your personal brand. Your voice is an essential part of that process and can ruin or enhance the image you want to project. Have you ever heard the comment: he/she was fine “until h/she opened her mouth?” Or felt that someone’s voice was so dull you wanted to “scream with boredom”? Or another saying a voice “screeched like nails on a blackboard.” The reality is, if the voice gets on your nerves, or doesn’t engage you – you simply stop listening.
[Tweet “Someone may look the part, but for some reason their speaking voice lets them down.”]
But it’s not a huge problem because it can be dealt with. A good speaking voice and executive presence are skills that can be acquired and coached. You just have to be sure you get good, honest and constructive feedback.
One of the most famous examples of this is David Beckham. A super macho, rock star, international footballer, at the height of his career, had the voice of a 13 year old girl. There is nothing wrong with that of course, if you are a 13 year old girl. If you are a male athlete at the pinnacle of your career, it lets you down. David Beckham seemingly had extensive voice coaching to make his voice lower and more authoritative and to moderate his accent. He is now,15 years later, a much sort after brand ambassador and leader in the world of sport.
The same is true of Margaret Thatcher, who sounded as if she had a stone in her mouth. She was coached to make her voice lower and seem warmer, to make her sound more accessible. She worked with a voice coach from the National Theatre to improve her public image. You can hear the before and after results very clearly.
Who do you like to listen to?
Think of a few people whose voice is distinctive, beautiful and rich and who you enjoy listening to, regardless of what they are actually saying. Men who come to mind would be George Clooney, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson of “I don’t know who you are but I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you” fame . Women I think of would be, Cate Blanchett, Carey Mulligan and the two Michelles – Obama and Pfeiffer.
While developing perfect vocal intonation and diction tend to be acquired as we grow up, it can also be developed later.
[Tweet “Sounding uneducated is one of the major barriers to overcome as part of a personal brand.”] Although we have seen some inverted snobbery recently, where well educated people affect uneducated accents and voices, to appear “cool.” With a British public school and Cambridge education, there is no reason that Sacha Baron Cohen should sound like Ali G. Vocal fashion trends come and go and in certain demographics become common and therefore acceptable ways of talking. Although not quite as bad as the video below, I have interviewed women who sound like the women below. They were cut.
Why is this important? It’s essentially an unconscious bias associated with trust. And of course it also means that people who sound the part can’t necessarily produce the right results. That’s why more than one selection criterion is used. However the point of talking is to be listened to and anything that becomes a barrier is a potential issue.
How is your pitch? High or very low? A high-pitched voice can come across as screeching or whining, which can be annoying just as a low pitched, monotone voice can be dull. If your tone falls outside the normal range, practice changing it. Sometimes just slowing down your pace, can help you lower your pitch.
A perfect pace doesn’t exist – what is needed is that it has to be situation appropriate. Very often when we are nervous we speak faster and at a higher pitch and this is where breathing can help. We need to take deep slow breaths from the diaphragm to slow ourselves down.
You are probably aware of the stereotyping which associates regional accents with certain types of person or behaviour. The “fast talking” Londoner or New Yorker, or the more “laid back” Southern States or Irish accent. The most important thing is to speak clearly, so that people can understand you.
Your speaking volume should be in line with the audience which is listening to you. You don’t want to use the same voice you would to deliver a speech, in a small room. You probably wouldn’t deliver bad news in a loud voice. Listen for feedback and any comment that you’re speaking too softly, or that you could turn it down a notch. Speaking softy, can be perceived as weak, speaking loudly can be received as hectoring. The volume should be situation appropriate. And of course another element of executive presence is being able to read a room correctly.
Ask for feedback
Record your own voice and ask for honest feedback from a professional to establish how your speaking voice sounds.
How is your speaking voice? Do you know?
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12th January 2021 “Habits to help you work more effectively remotely” Crop Life Europe - Corporate event
28th January 2021 “Licence to hire - Managing Bias in Recruitment” ENGIE - Corporate event
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