British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously employed a voice coach to help her lower her speaking voice to sound more authoritative. Although many women wouldn’t go to that extreme, a study in 1998 by Flinders University in South Australia for the Journal of Voice, shows that women’s voices have deepened since 1945.
As a voice teacher who works with high-performing women to enhance and maximise their speaking voices, I see this trend in my own studio. Women are speaking too low. They perceive this to be more desirable – giving them more authority, gravitas and confidence in the workplace.
However what they don’t realise is this desire for a lower pitched voice is actually hindering them from fully expressing themselves. They come to see me because their voice is not reliable. It might feel weak, strained or tired and in some cases they are completely losing their voice by the end of the day or week.
Indeed the term Bogart-Bacall syndrome was coined following a study in the 1980s of professional adult voice users (e.g. teachers, public speakers and salesmen) who were speaking too low. They had created excessive tension in their voice, resulting in vocal fatigue and dysphonia.
If we speak too low, we actually have to work harder to project and be heard. This in turn can often create excessive tension or fatigue in the voice. Far from speaking with confidence and impact at work, it actually hinders free expression. For women who are talking all day – presenting, pitching, coaching or consulting, this will just get worse over time.
When I work with clients I help them find their natural speaking pitch (or pitch range). A simple way to begin to find your natural speaking pitch, is to imagine you’re agreeing with someone and say “hmmm”. Don’t force this sound, you’ll make this naturally without trying to find it. It should feel easy and effortless. From that place, try and speak a few words.
The irony is when you speak from your natural pitch and modulate from that place, your voice will function and feel better. You can both speak with more ease and find a richer more powerful voice. This will give the illusion of a deeper pitch.
It’s a win win not only for your vocal health but also to ensure you can fully express your brilliance in the workplace.