Careers of today are inevitably shaped by the influx of technology. With such technological advancements, means of communication have evolved significantly. As we rely more heavily on text-based interactions, we are losing prowess in our most natural mode of communication -- speech.
Though it's no secret that public speaking and presentation skills are an asset in the corporate world, our proficiency in "speech" extends far beyond that. A lesser-recognized facet lies in the individual nuances of our speaking voices and speech patterns. The actual sound of our voice plays a substantial role in how we come across to others. A deep, booming voice may conjure the image of a leader, whereas a softer voice may suggest that of a behind-the-scenes operator. These obvious associations, however, barely scratch the surface. A number of subtler characteristics affect listener perceptions, even of voices not deemed particularly notable.
After sifting through an array of applicants, employers often claim that something about the one they chose simply "felt right." That means that a subconscious element, some covert quality they can't explicitly identify, set that candidate apart from the rest. In addition to nonverbal body language, a person's speech patterns are a likely suspect.
In his book "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior," Leonard Mlodinow says a listener forms impressions of a speaker's emotional state, intelligence level and overall character based on the way he or she sounds. As we listen to language, he claims, "our minds are, in parallel, analyzing, judging, and being affected by, qualities of voice that have nothing to do with words." Thus, two applicants with identically worded responses may be differentiated by the subliminal discrepancies in the voice they use to answer.
That is, an employer will make a selection based not on what they said but on how they said it. "If two speakers utter exactly the same words but one speaks a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume, that speaker will be judged to be more energetic, knowledgeable, and intelligent," claims Mlodinow.
So what does this mean for career success? Are those with particular voices destined for failure? Not at all. A variety of factors contribute to the way we sound, including culture, personality and the models we imitated growing up. With focused training, however, our vocal patterns are actually quite malleable, claims the head of New York Speech Coaching, John West. With what he terms "speaking voice enhancement," West and his team have guided the evolution of countless voices. "We are not here to tell people how they should sound," he says. "Rather, we want to endow clients with the understanding of how to control their voices so they can sound and come across in the way they want." This niche service offered by some speech coaches is a little known key to success for top executives.
Aside from affecting listener perceptions, speaking voice enhancement often yields psychological benefits for speakers, as they develop a voice that is more congruent with their own sense of self.
Though to an extent our personality informs our voices, West examines the extent to which our voices inform personality. "People think, 'Oh, I'm shy, so I speak softly. I can't project my voice,'" he says. "Interestingly, though, an inefficient use of the vocal mechanism can result in limiting the speaker to only using that soft voice. Constantly being asked 'What?' and being told to 'speak up' can negatively affect someone's confidence when they speak. As a result, they may turn inward and become more shy."
Thus, adopting the speech characteristics of a certain personality type could lead you to internalize those traits in other ways. To put it simply, "sounding more confident may cause you to actually be more confident." The ability to project confidence and authority marks one of the most coveted skills in the business world.
Of course, sounding authoritative is not everyone's aim. A therapist or a yoga instructor, for example, may wish for a softer, more compassionate sound.
No matter the end goal, fine-tuning your voice to match your chosen career path can yield serious advantages. With much of our workday spent behind screens, those precious moments of verbal interaction carry all the more weight. Understanding and accessing control of your voice to reflect how you wish to be perceived in the office can ultimately propel your career success, all while restoring the art of speaking.