Speech patterns, including your accent, tone, speed, and pitch, paint a very vivid picture of you to the people you encounter. According to Leonard Mlodinow, author of "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior", "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. And "Expressive speech, with modulation in pitch and volume, and a minimum of noticeable pauses, boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence." When working from home has reduced our non-verbal communication channels and increased people's focus on what they can see and hear, we should all be paying more attention to our voices.
Your voice is a critical medium in delivering your message. In a study from the University of Chicago, MBA students were videotaped giving pitches on why they should be hired. Then, potential employers and professional recruiters were given three options: view the video, listen to the audio, or read a transcript.
The result? "These evaluators rated a candidate as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard a pitch rather than read it and, as a result, had a more favorable impression of the candidate and were more interested in hiring the candidate. Adding voice to written pitches, by having trained actors or untrained adults read them, produced the same results. Adding visual cues to audio pitches did not alter evaluations of the candidates. For conveying one's intellect, it is important that one's voice, quite literally, be heard." Your voice, with its many layers of communications mechanisms, honed over millennia, is an exceptional tool for conveying your message.
Pitch is the concept most discussed in terms of business outcomes, that is, how high or low the sound is. A high sound has a high pitch and a low sound has a low pitch. A tight drum skin gives a higher pitched sound than a loose drum skin. Duke University and the University of California study looked at the speeches of the male CEOs of almost 800 public companies. CEOs with deeper voices managed larger companies and had higher income. A decrease of 25% in voice pitch (22.1 Hz) is associated with an increase of $187.000 in annual salary. Additionally, CEOs with deeper voices also enjoy longer tenures. This is thought to be evolutionary. Many of our closest animal relatives, from rhesus macaques to chimpanzees, lower their vocal pitch during altercations.
Does the same hold true for women? Somewhat. Traditionally "female" ways of speaking -a sing-song tone of voice, speaks in a breathy way, or sentences end in a questioning tone (often referred to as "upspeak") can be seen as less intelligent and authoritative. And studies have shown that lowering pitch is as effective for men as for women. In an experiment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, participants performed a decision-making task that involved ranking the items that an astronaut would need to survive a disaster on the moon. Afterward, the researchers privately asked each member to rank each member's dominance, creating a pecking order for the group. Most participants quickly shifted the pitch of their voice within the first few minutes of the conversation, and those changes predicted their later ranking within the hierarchy. For men AND women, participants who lowered their pitch were perceived to be more dominant, and those who raised their pitch, more submissive.
That being said, there's also a lower limit for women, called vocal fry, that is penalizing. A study at the University of Miami found that having a deep vo