Wednesday, 01 April 2015 15:43

Lung Power?

Article as it appeared in Forbes Woman Africa magazine.

Is it important to be loud to get your message across in the boardroom? Here’s how to use your voice as a powerful tool. Words Tanya Waterworth.

When it comes to being heard in the boardroom or during a presentation, can a woman sound authoritative enough, without raising her voice?

 Experts say yes she can – by using her voice as a secret weapon.

Durban psychologist, Claire Newton, who is also a speaker, trainer and life coach, says a well-modulated voice ensures the listener not just pays attention to it, but also enjoys it.

For a woman, a lower pitch is key – in relation to a man’s deeper voice - when it comes to delivering a message.

Luckily, African women naturally have deeper voices in comparison with their Western or Asian counterparts.

“Pitch is culturally taught. German women tend to have a lower pitch than Californian women who have high-pitched voices….African women already have the advantage of a lower pitch, while Oriental or Asian women have a higher pitch.

But what is not advisable?

“If you speak in a squeak or cutesy voice, you will never make it through those meetings.  It’s similar to a child’s high pitched voice and no-one will take your message seriously,” warns Newton.

She adds that if a voice is too high-pitched it becomes unpleasant and the audience will simply block it out.

“For a high level executive woman, it’s necessary to train your voice to a lower pitch, “ says Newton, adding there are four facts to voice control : Volume (loud or soft), pitch (high or low), tone (warm or cold/brisk) and speed.

Monique Harrisberg, CEO of The Voice Clinic in South Africa, says women must not make the mistake of believing they will be heard by raising their voice.

“Speaking loudly tightens the vocal cords and creates a harsh flat quality.

“Lowering your pitch and rounding your vowels can bring a rich warm quality to your voice. Oprah is a perfect example, she has a rich voice with [an] open body language.”

The voice is a tool which can be used to project all sorts of messages – 38% of any communication is vocal.

“Similar to choosing your bag or shoes in the morning ahead of a meeting, it’s just as important to be conscious of what your vocal quality is going to be like,” says Harrisberg.

And it seems women across the business spectrum are becoming increasingly aware of the power of their voice.

Tuletu Njengele, Deputy Director at Ikhala Public EFT College in East London, says voice training helped her confidence levels.

“For a lot of women in executive positions, there are small things we overlook which can have a great impact on how we portray ourselves. Voice is one of those and it’s like an engine – you have to warm it up in the morning with exercises,” says Njengele.

“It’s amazing to see how controlling your voice can affect both your business and personal life. I have found it reduces stress levels, as I’ve learned how to control my breathing. It gives you a chance to consider your reply and deliver it in a controlled, confident way,” says Hannalie Marsh, a marketing director, who completed a course in voice training. She says it also improved her listening skills as she now waits before she replies.

“Putting colour in your voice, such as lowering your pitch, can make a big impact. I have tested out different pitches, pace, tone, volume and it’s been very interesting to see the different recations from audiences depending on these factors,” says Marsh.

Both Newton and Harrisberg also emphasize it’s important to drop your ‘ums’and ‘ahs’ out of sentences.