A recent study of CEO’s voices – and they were all male – found that the ones with lower voices made more money than higher-voiced counterparts in other companies. Add that study to the many other such studies about voices and leadership, and you’d be pardoned for freaking out if your voice doesn’t sound like James Earl Jones. How can you possibly succeed?
And I get asked by women clients about voices all the time. If I’m a woman, does that limit my leadership – because my voice is higher than most male voices? If my voice is too low, does that backfire because people think I’m trying to sound like a man – or trying to sound too aggressive? If I have a soprano voice, should I try to lower it? And so on.
Rather than leading to useful insights, all too often these studies have simply made my clients more insecure about their voices. They know that the voice is an important part of public speaking, authority, and leadership – so what do I do to maximize mine?
I wrote in Power Cues about some powerful research and some very practical ways to improve your voice. But as we get ready to launch our first online course on preparing a great presentation, I want to focus on a couple of ways to think about your voice that have more to do with what you say than how you say it. The content, and your attitude toward it, really do come first.
First, figure out what you care about.
Often, when I work with high-powered executives, their handlers will say to me, “We don’t need your help with the content of the speech, just the delivery.” My heart always sinks a little because it immediately tells me two things: I’m dealing with a bureaucracy, and often the executive has problems with the delivery precisely because he or she is uncomfortable with some aspect of the content. It may be as simple as knowing that part of it is bullshit, or it may be as complicated as not really having achieved something that sounds like the executive’s voice.
So regardless of whether you’re a high-powered exec or someone elsewhere on the totem pole, you need to be able to get comfortable with the content. That means believing it – and caring about it. If you don’t care deeply about the message, you won’t be able to deliver it with any kind of passion.
That’s the essence of what I teach in the first online course we’ve ever tried. Each of the exercises and models are designed to help you find your passion, your belief, your idea, and craft it into a story that will move the world to action. Let me know how it works for you!
Second, let go of the other voices in your head
. Many things conspire to prevent you from speaking with your true Voice. Most of them are the people who have come before us – our parents, our teachers, our role models. They give advice really meant for themselves, or based on their own experience. It’s rare the advice-giver who can give out advice that isn’t a reflection of their own concerns. Sometimes, that’s even useful, but more often than not, you need to use it and move beyond it.
Then there are the out and out critics, the people from parents on down who tell us we’re no good, or we’re too fat or too thin or too short or too tall. When we carry these memories around in our heads, they get in the way of us speaking with a full voice.
You need to embrace yourself, vocal warts and all.
Third, let your full voice out.
Finally, you have to give yourself permission to speak with your full passion. It’s easier to risk a little than it is to risk a lot. It’s easier to stay quiet than it is to speak up. It’s easier to let out just a bit of yourself than the whole thing. What if someone disagrees? What if someone doesn’t like you? What if someone laughs at you? You have to overcome all those fears in order to speak with your own, unique, fully human voice.
For most of us, it’s a lifetime of development. Why not start now?