Photo: Ryan Polei
I was on a crowded conference call recently waiting for the CEO of a major international corporation to join in. The rest of us chatted amiably for a short while exchanging pleasantries when suddenly a tiny, breathy voice cut in. I’ll be honest, I thought it was a joke at first, but then this voice that sounded like the love child of Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe took the lead and led things for the rest of the 90-minute call. The thing is, that this woman really knew her stuff, but I was so distracted by her affectations that as soon as she started speaking I tuned her out.
I started asking friends and colleagues whether they’d ever had similar experiences and the stories began to flow. One friend told me about the team leader who sounded like a highly enthusiastic frat boy who began or ended each sentence with “yo” or “bro.” His nickname in the office? YoBro, naturally.
A colleague told me about attending a conference where four out of the five panelists projected some variation of vocal fry (that almost crunchy style of talking popularized on reality TV and dating shows in which you sound almost hoarse or creaky). Apparently, the entire audience burst into raucous laughter when two panelists tried to speak over each other and had the identical intonations and tone. The moderator broke in and asked if they needed water or cough drops since it was hard to understand them.
You seem less experienced
The thing is that whether you realize it or not, the way you speak might be alienating others in the workplace or your work orbit. “Using cutesy, child-like, or high-pitched voices might seem like the friendly, “approachable” way to go, but it can actually do more harm than good,” said psychotherapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling.
More than that, it “might annoy your colleagues and prevent them from wanting to have serious, professional conversations with you.” Dr. Smerling also believes that vocal affectations “will also make others perceive you to be a younger, less experienced employee (even if this is not the case).”
You lose credibility
It’s hard to distinguish oneself in the workplace at the best of times and competition can be killer. Why would you want to hobble yourself as being the one with the silly speech affectations?
“Your communication skills are some of the most important factors that play into your overall credibility,” said Dr. Smerling. “Speaking in a voice that doesn’t match up to your skills, age, etc. will hold you back tremendously since you’ll have a harder time being taken seriously.”
You seem less confident
You can psych yourself out before that next big presentation and memorize every word, stat, and projection; but if you present in a goofy intonation, you might be setting yourself up to fail.
“In a professional setting, always remember you want to command a presence of confidence, self-respect, and authority, no matter what your role may be at that company,” said Dr. Smerling. “Studies show that women’s unusual speech patterns and vocal fry in the workplace are holding them back from promotions, salary raises, and a more equal playing field.”
So, what can you do to change the way you speak, sound or project? Dr. Smerling says to “learn how to confidently communicate with your boss, clients, and colleagues- whether it means seeing a voice/speech coach, joining a public speaking group like Toastmakers or a therapist to work on your personal and professional confidence.”