Have you ever finished a presentation and, even though you look your age, the only comment after was “How old are you?” Chances are it’s not your content; it’s your voice.
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to understand how a childlike voice can negatively impact how others perceive you at work. To deal with it, more and more, primarily women, are investing significant amounts of time and money into vocal training to learn to sound more authoritative. But is the idea that a voice must be masculine to be authoritative now antiquated or still practical?
While in an ideal world feminine qualities would be as highly valued in the workplace as masculine ones, we maintain that working on your voice to make it sound more authoritative isn’t selling out your gender (or sexual orientation, in the case of men with sibilant and/or feminine voices). A weak voice is perceived as the equivalent of a limp handshake and can give a poor impression in the workplace.
There are a number of different speech barriers that can hold you back — most of which have nothing to do with sounding masculine — such as speaking too softly, mumbling and uptalk, where the voice inflects into a higher pitch making every statement sound like a question. There’s also the increasingly common affectation known as “vocal fry” — a breathy, raspy way of speaking typified by celebrities like the Kardashians and Katy Perry. One study in the scientific journal Plos One Entitled “Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market” found that, compared to a “normal” speaking voice, “young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable.”
Changing a trait as ingrained as your voice is no small feat. A typical regimen might encompass several months of once-a-week training followed by a year of practice. It’s not cheap either, with rates ranging from $50 per hour to hundreds of dollars per hour. However, as with all self-improvement, how far you take it is really up to you. You can improve your voice for free, just by being mindful of how you talk at work. Stand up straight, breathe, project and speak clearly and with intention.
It’s reasonable for people to judge you based on how well they can understand you. If they can’t hear you, or if the sound of your voice grates on their nerves, they will respect you less. So learn to speak with authority — you deserve to be heard.