How the Sound of Your Voice Can Get Better Team Results

Oct 19, 2015
7 Min Read

Howard Stern has criticized the annoying voice of a woman appearing on “The Bachelor,” making it clear that the sound of your voice matters to other people. Research shows that the pitch and speed of your voice may determine not just whether you find true love – but whether your team will believe and follow what you say.

You may be surprised the first time you hear your own recorded voice.

Who is that person who sounds like Daffy Duck? Why didn’t anyone ever tell you that your voice makes you sound like a third-grader? Is your voice really so high-pitched it’s a wonder dogs aren’t howling for miles around?

While everyone is taken a bit by surprise to hear his or her own voice, most people just shrug it off – or try to convince themselves they don’t sound that bad.

The problem is that your voice makes an impression on others, just as the clothes you wear or your body language convey a message about you. If you’re working with a remote team, the impact of your voice is even greater as others can’t can observe your body language or see your facial expressions.

“In the workplace…the quality of your voice can be a deciding factor in your degree of success,” says Leonard Mlodinow, author of “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.” “The pitch, timbre, volume, speed, and cadence of your voice, the speed with which you speak, and even the way you modulate pitch and loudness, are all hugely influential factors in how convincing you are, and how people judge your state of mind, and character.”

That’s why you can’t brush off the impression your voice makes on others. So, just as you put time into your professional dress, conduct and presentation skills, you need to devote more energy into improving your voice.

“Studies show that, just as people signal the basic emotions through facial expression, we also do it through voice,” Mlodinow says.

Here are some tips from vocal coaches on how to improve the sound of your voice to make a better impression on your team:

  • Speaking faster is better. The University of Michigan finds in a study that those who speak at a rate of about 3.5 words per second were much more successful at getting people to agree than those who talk very fast or very slow. Researchers find that people are more distrustful of those who speak too quickly, while those who talk too slowly are perceived as not too bright.
  • Control your pitch. Those whose voice pitch rises and falls too often aren’t seen as animated, but rather as fake and trying too hard, the study finds. Lisa B. Marshall, author of “Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation,” says it’s not easy to change the natural pitch of your voice, but you can keep it as low as possible by taking slow, full, deep breaths and trying to keep any nervousness under control.
  • Lower your voice. Just listen to movie trailers and you’ll hear how often deep voices are used to convey messages. The Michigan study found that males with higher-pitched voices had worse success than their deep-voiced counterparts. That’s backed up by a Duke University study that finds men with deeper voices make more money, run larger companies and stay in their jobs longer. However, women do not benefit by a deeper voice, and are actually penalized in their careers if they adopt what’s known as “vocal fry.” (Many experts credit reality stars such as Kim Kardashian with starting the trend.)
  • Pause. If you don’t stop to draw a breath when speaking, you’re likely to be less successful because you sound too scripted, researchers say. People seem to be most comfortable with the typical four or five times most people pause in a minute. If you pause more than that, you can be perceived as a less-skilled speaker.

Researchers are so interested in how successful leaders use their voice to influence and rouse others that a recent study by UCLA looked at how politicians share vocal qualities that sway audiences – no matter what they’re saying.

Researchers asked subjects to listen to audio clips of high-ranking politicians from Brazil, France and Italy – places where the subjects did not understand the language. It was discovered that there is no single pitch that conveys charisma.

“The best speakers adapt their voices to their listeners, context and culture. Charismatic leaders monitor audience reaction and possess the emotional intelligence to change their vocal delivery mid-speech to obtain the response they want,” says  Rosario Signorello, a postdoctoral scholar in head and neck surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.



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