Kiran Patil is naturally soft spoken, but this became a problem at work. “My voice didn’t have any assertiveness. If I wanted my team to work well, I had to sound stern sometimes but that was difficult for me," says Patil, who is assistant general manager at the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim) in Mumbai and leads a team of 15 people. Patil handles information technology (IT) infrastructure for the bank and apart from interacting with his team, part of his job includes dealing with suppliers, where the ability to speak authoritatively is important. In order to be more effective at this job, Patil decided to work with a speech and drama specialist, to learn to project authority and assertiveness in his voice.

In leadership positions, your voice and the manner in which you speak can determine how well you do. A 2013 study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business even measures how much better you do if you have a better voice. The study says deeper voices are considered better or more effective for leadership roles. Deep-voiced individuals are perceived to have greater leadership capacity and, as a result, may be more successful in obtaining leadership positions. The study, Voice Pitch And the Labor Market Success of Male Chief Executive Officers, co-authored by Professor William Mayew, Duke University, US, is based on data collected on CEOs of Standard and Poor’s 1,500 companies. It showed that not only did the CEOs with deeper voices get better pay, they also got to manage larger assets and had longer tenures. “Voice pitch appears to play a role in the CEO labour market. We found deeper-voiced CEOs run larger firms, and as a result make more in compensation," says Prof. Mayew in an email interview.

“There is a tendency to feel reassured by a person with a deep voice, to feel you can trust that person," agrees Mumbai-based Raghu Palat, corporate trainer and author of several books, including Interview Tips: Get The Job You Want. Palat shares the example of a senior advertising executive who came to him for voice training. This executive who worked in the creative department found he was not being taken seriously because of the way he spoke. Having a squeaky or screechy voice can mar your chances of being heard. “A shrill, squeaky or reedy voice upsets the balance; the listener tends to switch off. When he got enthusiastic or excited by an idea, his tone became shrill and that tended to put people off. Things
improved drastically after a few months of voice training. Training taught him to speak more slowly and precisely, projecting his voice from the stomach rather than from the throat," explains Palat.

For Patil, too, working on voice pitch was an important part of voice training. “In meetings with vendors, if I want to enforce certain delivery commitments, I have to use a deeper, more modulated tone of voice. Also, when I get customer complaints, they often speak in a heated high-pitched way. If I respond in the same tone, the customer will surely get upset. I have to sound calm and even-toned."

“A deeper voice is important, but so is pacing, tonality, speed and the body language that goes with it," says Bill Cornwell, a Singapore-based executive coach and managing director, Cascade Consulting, in an email interview. For more understanding on the role of voice in the business world, Cornwell recommends reading the chapter “Fire in the voice" in David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused, on creativity and poetry in the workplace.

A simple tip to achieve a deeper tone and a better voice presence is offered by Kedar Dunakhe, who is voice trainer at the Pune-based Indian Voice-Overs. “Always speak slowly, no matter what," says Dunakhe, who conducts voice workshops in Mumbai and Pune regularly. Indian Voice-Overs was set up in 2006 by former TV producer and voice-over artist Sasha Masand to train artistes and actors for voice-overs. Over the years he realized that there was a market for training executives to create a presence using their voice and in April this year, he developed a voice-training module for executives. The day-long programme conducted in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore costs 2,999 per person for a minimum of 10 people (or 5,999 per person) signing up from within a company. Indian Voice-Overs has conducted three workshops in Mumbai since April.

The technique used at Indian Voice-Overs, and indeed at many voice training programmes, is to record and playback. Playing back helps the speaker hear his voice and spot the problem areas in a way that is not possible while he is speaking. This process also helps to monitor aspects of the voice like speed, emphasis, intonation and the use of effective pauses.

What does this emphasis on a deeper pitch mean for women executives, naturally endowed with a higher register? The Duke University study is silent on this. There was simply not enough data on female CEOs to conduct a robust statistical study, says Prof. Mayew. Interestingly, though, one of the most authoritative female voices in history, that of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, has a story behind it. Her biographer Charles Moore writes in Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography that reacting to criticism that her voice was too shrill, Thatcher reportedly took voice lessons from the speech coach at the Royal National Theatre, London. That helped her lower her pitch and develop a calm authoritative tone. “Soon, the hectoring tones of the housewife gave way to softer notes and a smoothness that seldom cracked except under extreme provocation on the floor of the House of Commons," says Moore.

Eventually whether it is in a boardroom, in a meeting or on a phone call, it may well be your way of speaking that will give you that cutting edge.Your voice can speak volumes, if only you can get it pitch perfect.



Tips and techniques to talk better

u Spend 5 minutes every day making a voice diary on your phone. Use the voice recorder option that most smartphones have today. Record yourself and then play back the recording to hear yourself.

u Speak from your stomach rather than from the throat.

u Ensure that you speak slowly; talking too fast signifies nervousness. On the other hand, people feel a speaker who talks slowly knows what he is talking about.

u Use pauses effectively. Avoid filler words such as “like" or “and", and use a pause instead.

u Read aloud. These could be short stories, monologues or speeches.

u Listen to commentary and news on the radio.