I have been a voice expert helping professionals sound like leaders for 19 years. During that time, I have seen many well-intentioned articles, blog posts, books, television commentators, and radio hosts tackle the issue of the best way women should speak in the workplace.
Let us stop for a moment of silence in praise of the women who have tried to follow all this advice. Truly, you have suffered through a tsunami of conflicting messages: keep your voice higher so it sounds less threatening. Use your lower tones so you sound like one of the boys. Try not to interrupt. If others are ignoring you in meetings, interrupt them. Sound confident but not cocky. Sound cocky, but not threatening. Do not sound like anyone’s mother. Do not sound like anyone’s wife. Do not sound like anyone’s girlfriend. And if all this noise makes you want to cry, do not cry at the office!
It’s time to stop the madness and get down to basics. I am not from the government, but I am here to help you. I have a different approach to helping women sound like leaders, and it has nothing to do with anyone’s chromosomes. Here is a startling claim: the way to sound like a leader, ladies, is to speak to please the brains of your audience, not their brawn.
When it comes to speaking, brains—both male and female—follow the same rules. Voices carry the same messages. Once you understand how to send the right messages with your voice, you will sound like a leader, whether you wear slacks or Spanx.
By the way, try not to wear Spanx. It really constricts your waist, and you need to expand your waist when you inhale.
Ladies, here are your three rules for sounding like a leader and why anyone’s brain responds positively to them:
1. Use only one topic in a sentence.
Brains can only consciously do one thing at a time. When you speak, they listen. When you stop speaking, they process what you said. When you keep to one topic in a sentence, it’s easy for a brain to process and even remember what you said. People often point to people who make sense when they speak and they declare, ‘There’s your new leader!’
2. Use a period (your pitch gets lower) to end your sentences.
This connects closely with number one. Brains wait until your sentence is over before they switch to process mode. How do they know it’s time to do this? Because they ‘hear’ your period. It’s also a great time to take a deep breath before you begin your next sentence. Leaders breathe regularly. It helps them sound strong, and it gives their audiences time to take in their message.
3. Use pitches to demonstrate passion and emphasis.
Brains listen to your voice as a pattern. When your pattern is small (very few pitches), brains learn it quickly. Then they move on to learn something new. This means they stop listening to you. If your pattern changes and is unpredictable, a brain will keep listening until it knows the pattern. As long as you keep using new pitches and sentences with just one topic, you will have thousands of patterns to choose from. The brain of your listener will never know your pattern, and it will keep on listening. Leaders are often fascinating to listen to, no matter what their subject. Keep your audience dazzled with your speaking style, and they will consider you a leader.
These three tips should help you stand out as a leader at work. If you still feel a bit confused by all the ‘advice’ to help women sound like leaders, use my little trick: think of people as brains on necks. After all, that is the body part that matters the most.
About the Author
Anna Bernstein is founder of The Brain-Voice Connection™, a communications coaching business offering executive voice and presentation training as well as accent reduction and communication skills coaching.