There is now some basis for having a lower pitch in professional settings. In this New York Times article, “She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch,” the author, Jessica Grose, notes that her 31 year old self had a 12 year old voice mainly because all her sentences sounded like questions (an upspeak). This translates not only in sounding younger but in sounding uncertain, which is professionally damaging. It made the author more accepted by others because it conveyed friendliness but wasn’t perceived as sounding authoritative.
In “Why you need to pitch it right,” a 2013 study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business showed that deeper voices are considered more effective or better for leadership roles (see Darth Vader). So much so that CEO’s with deeper voices got more pay, longer tenures, and larger assets.
So is it time to start drinking whiskey and smoke cigarettes? Not quite.
Women are a bit screwed because though low voices are great professionally – depending, of course on your profession – most women don’t have deeper voices and don’t want them on a personal level. Most women have higher voices and it has physiological as well as societal reasons. Babies and kids find more comfort with higher voices (hello Elmo). Men tend to regard higher voices as being more maternal (see previous sentence) and more feminine, which aids and abets the courting process for heterosexuals.
Being considerate of others or asking opinions is also viewed as less than, yet it’s highly desirable in social relations where women excel. The director Penny Marshall, with a string of Oscar nominated films and box office hits like “Big” to her name, said that she’d ask opinions of others around her, not because she didn’t know what she wanted but that was just her approach. She quickly stopped doing that when she became AWARE that it was viewed as being indecisive.
The key here is BALANCE. Ms. Grouse went to an executive speech coach who created AWARENESS in her. She got rid of fillers (the “um’s” and “you know’s”). She did adapt her voice but didn’t change it so much as to get rid of what she valued, i.e. her enthusiasm and passion for a topic.
Even the Iron Lady herself, the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, went to the Royal National Theatre’s speech coach when she was told by her team that her voice came off as too “shrill.”
Sadly, there are actually not enough female CEO’s to even have a study on them, but whether you’re trying to get something done from contractors and vendors to run your family and home or you’re running a Fortune 100 company, the Livemint article notes one gem to tuck away:
A simple tip to achieve a deeper tone and a better voice presence is offered by Kedar Dunakhe, who is voice trainer at the Pune-based Indian Voice-Overs. “Always speak slowly, no matter what.”
Slow, steady, no fillers, and no upspeak — and knowing what the hell you’re talking about — will win the race. And the pitch.