We’ve all had the experience: a woman you’ve never met before joins the morning meeting. You’re predisposed toward her, given the professional suit, attentive focus, and gracious bearing. And then she opens her mouth to speak. It’s thin and breathy, or squeaky, or mumbly, or a perpetual question mark rising at the end of every sentence. You immediately reassess.
Let me reverse the experience: do you know how YOU sound? I admit, that’s a trick question. Because, according to voice/communication consultant Susan D. Miller, how you hear yourself speaking is not how others hear you. When we hear ourselves speak, she explains, we are listening to sound vibrating through the bones of our skull. As a result, we think our voice is more full and resonant than it is to others, who are hearing sound conducted by air processed via the inner ear.
What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
So how do we know how we really sound in that meeting? In her book, Be Heard the First Time: The Woman’s Guide to Powerful Speaking, Miller recommends that we record our voices (on voice mail or any other convenient digital recording device). That’s a much more accurate representation of our voice. Then, writes Miller, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the pitch of your voice appropriate for your age and size?
- Does your vocal tone sound thin and nasal?
- Is the volume of your voice too loud or too soft?
- Does your vocal range span two octaves?
- Do you attack vowels in an abrupt or breathy way?
This is an ideal way to begin self-assessing the authority — or lack thereof — in your voice. I love to recommend Miller’s book to my coaching clients, who understand how crucial their voice is to career advancement. Be Heard the First Time helps you understand the functioning of your voice one step at a time. And then it provides you with simple, easy exercises. As someone who has worked with a voice coach, I can assure you that these exercises work. How you use your breath, how you project, how you open up your vocal cords: these are all learnable skills.
If, as Miller’s title nails it, you want “to be heard the first time” (after all, you want them to remember what you say, not what you look like), then you need to invest as much in your voice as you do in your wardrobe.