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Finding Your Executive Voice

For the past 25 years, I have watched the role of women in business change a great deal. One area that has always been curious to me is whether business recommendations made in a male or female voice carry more authority. This blog will explore that question.

Let us consider gender bias for a moment. Typically gender bias against women is embedded in her physical characteristics such as hair color, body shape, size, weight, and physical attractiveness. Then we add clothing – length of the dress, depth of neckline and style of attire and further visual clues may be added to the gender bias. If one takes away these factors or becomes blind we would then have to consider a person’s voice as the empowerment of leadership point and counter-point. We then have to consider whether women speak out as freely as men. A woman’s natural tendency is to hold back her comments until it is her turn to speak. A man’s natural tendency is to jump right in with an opinion right or wrong.

We next have to look at whether the pitch of a person’s voice makes a difference to acceptance of their recommendations to business leaders? My hypothesis is that yes-high pitch female voices often do not receive as frequent acceptance of their recommendations as well as low pitch voices. We will review this theory as well.

Building the Power

To understand what having a powerful voice means we first have to understand the dynamics of our voice. One might consider the human voice as part of a sound production company. Many think that all sound is generated by the vocal cords. However, three organs are actually responsible for our voice quality. The lungs are needed to provide airflow and air pressure and the articulators, which include the larynx, tongue, cheeks, etc. help us to make and filter the sound arising from the larynx and, to some degree, can interact with the laryngeal airflow to strengthen it or weaken it as a sound source. Many of us depend solely on the vocal cords when using our voice, which actually weakens the vocal cords and makes our voice high pitched, crackly or soft. Women are especially prone to dependence on their vocal cords rather than their lungs. This creates situations when we lose our breath halfway through the conversation and begin to talk softly, particularly when we are under stress or pressure. Has this ever happened to you? If so, here are some suggestions to help you build the power of your voice.

Strengthen Your Voice

The first step to improving the power of your voice is to practice your lung power every day. If you like to sing, begin with a song that has short phrases. Take a deep breath all the way down to your abdomen and sing the first stanza as loud as you can at one consistent volume. Stop take another deep breath and go on to the next stanza. If you do not like to sing, you can accomplish the same thing using a rhyming children’s book. The second step is to warm up your voice every morning. Again, take a deep breath all the way to your abdomen and say the word AH……. in a loud but comfortable voice. Time yourself to see how long you can hold the AH at the same loud voice. You should set a goal to improve a second or two every day. Normal will be 15 seconds but don’t be frustrated if you start at 7-8 seconds.

A sound meter can be purchased on Amazon for about $20 to measure the loudness or volume of your voice. Normal conversation volume should be between 72-75 decibels. Presentation or a meeting voice should be around 85-95 decibels. As you are practicing make sure you measure the volume and practice maintaining the volume at these levels.

Making Your Message Count

 Many times, when faced with a needed response in a meeting, participants babble on and on offering opinions on topics they know nothing about. Prior to speaking make sure you have earned the right to speak about the topic. We often respond without considering our answer and are sorry we spoke up. Responding requires a three-step process. First, consider the other person’s opinion. Be sure to acknowledge his/her opinion in a positive way and provide a response, which acknowledges the fact that they could be correct. Next, you may provide an opposing view but only if you can provide evidence that your view may also be viable. A response might go something like the following:

Step 1 – Repeat what you just heard

Joe, I understand that you are in favor of employees wearing jeans to work and that doing so allows our employees to be more comfortable, which positively impacts their productivity.

Step 2 – Find a point of agreement

I agree our employees will be more comfortable, which could result in an improvement in productivity.

Step 3 – State your opposing view and provide evidence

(Evidence) I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal indicating that while the trend is to allow casual attire in businesses, many businesses are discovering employees are taking more time off during the workdays because they do not feel important. (Opinion) Therefore, I believe our company should retain its business casual dress code and only allow jeans on Fridays.

What is important in this interaction is your ability to allow the other party to save face and for you to provide evidence that backs up your statement.

Conclusion

While the evidence seems clear that woman may have a more difficult time ensuring their voice is heard in meetings or in the boardroom, with a little practice on voice volume and breath control the sound should never be a problem. Along with volume and breath control, woman and men need to be most concerned that they have earned the right to speak about the topic and provide evidence of their opinion. Facts are what make the speaker credible. When attending any meetings, executives must be engaged in the conversation, put cell phones and laptops away and ensure that responses are backed by evidence. This is the way to make Your Voice Heard!

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