Women are often criticized for their voices in ways men aren’t. Vocal tendencies like upspeak and vocal fry are viewed more negatively when women exhibit them. But rather than focusing on those double standards or trying to change our voices to fit into a particular mold, women should recognize that our voices are one of our strongest assets. We are born with strong, clear, compelling voices.
Here are five ways that women can express themselves with vocal confidence.
Believe in yourself
Start by believing you are worthy of being listened to. Whether you are in a meeting with colleagues, in a corridor conversation with your boss, or at home with your family, a strong voice begins with a strong, confident mind-set.
Rehearse your strengths and abilities each time you step into a communications situation. With that knowledge comes strength. Adopt a strong mind-set and a determination to be heard.
Find your full sound
As girls, we were often encouraged to speak with less vocal power than we are capable of. Who has not heard the words, “Shhh—talk quietly” or delivered these words to a daughter? Among the thousands of women who’ve enrolled in our company’s program for women, the single greatest concern is that they don’t want to sound too strong. They say, “My voice is too loud,” or, “Do I sound too strong?”
Don’t hesitate to use the full power of your voice. It’s there in each of us. Speak to be heard in every meeting. Project your voice so it reaches the person who is farthest from you. Get used to sounding strong. Your ideas will come across as more powerful if they are supported with a full sound.
Ground your voice
You’ll also sound more confident if you lower the register of your voice. It is not a question of wanting to sound like your male colleagues, it’s that lowering your voice will make you sound more connected to what you are saying.
A high voice has a fly-away quality, whereas a lower voice has more depth that gives weight to the idea you’re delivering. This more grounded voice has gravitas, which literally means to be grounded. When we vocally move down into a lower register, we sound more purposeful and connected to the thoughts we are delivering.
Listen to yourself, and practice speaking in a lower register before you make a presentation or have a meeting with your boss. If you practice doing so when you have a script or notes, you’ll gradually speak that way naturally.
Pace is also important. The slower you speak (up to a point!), the more you convey the notion that you own the room.
Slow down and realize that others want to hear what you are saying. If you’re prepared and have a clear message, others need time to absorb what you’re saying, so it’s doing a favor to them to slow down.
You can do this in two ways: 1. Slow the rate of your word delivery; and 2. Pause longer between your sentences or ideas.
You’ll be less likely to be interrupted if you speak more slowly, because others will realize that you feel in control.
Finally, if you want listeners to connect with your ideas, bring expressiveness to your voice. Listeners lose interest in someone who speaks in a monotone. A lifeless tone can override your words.
Emphasize key words and messages when you speak. Before a meeting or interview, underline the most important sentences and words in your script, and deliver them with great emphasis. Strong gestures also can help underscore your message and energize your delivery.
These five vocal techniques are elaborated in my book, Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed. Having a strong voice will ensure that you come across as believing in yourself, believing in what you are saying, and expecting the audience to as well.