All a woman needs to command a room is an authoritative voice. To be honest, the tone, clarity or strength of a person's voice — a woman's voice, to be more specific — was never something I readily noticed until I came to college.
I haven't always been the chattiest student in my seminar classes, but I always paid close attention to what my classmates said. Namely, I would listen to my female counterparts because they were never shy about sharing their opinions.
I admired their boldness and courage in being able to so effortlessly share their sometimes controversial thoughts with a class full of strangers. But that awe melted away once some of them actually began to speak.
They often sounded soft-spoken and timid. As much as I was disappointed by their meek voices, I recently realized I am also guilty of this type of "little girl voice."
A few weeks ago, I heard a playback of a voicemail that I left on my boss' answering machine, and I didn't even realize it was me until I remembered that I left an identical message on the same machine. Before I made the connection between the voicemail and myself, I actually thought, “Wow, how does this little girl know so many grown-up words?” Then I put two and two together and felt totally embarrassed.
Do I really sound like a little girl when I speak to people I don't know? My voice was nymph-like and almost shrill. It was horrendous and humiliating for me, to say the least. As soon as I realized it was me, my cheeks flushed, and I wanted to delete it just to erase any trace of it.
It also made me wonder: If my own voice is this annoying to me, what did my boss think when she heard it? I almost wanted to tell her that the insecure preschooler yapping into her machine wasn't actually me. But instead, I just tweaked my inflection, tone and general behavior when I spoke to her so I sounded more like my actual self.
Speaking with authority is something all women should master, even if it involves tweaking a voice we have grown accustomed to our whole lives. Here are five things professional voice therapists recommend doing in order to command attention when speaking:
Toddlers tend to get lost in their thoughts as they speak. So instead of focusing on what they want to say, they just spew out whatever is on their minds. For this reason, they tend to slur their words together into a jumbled mess.
We tend to do this when we speak to someone we don't know or to a group of people. We focus so much on our words to the point where we can't hear ourselves actually speaking.
The result is a voice that is similar to that of a toddler. Annunciating instantly offers more power to an argument or opinion. Speaking with clarity is just as important as the actual words themselves.
2. Project, but don't shout.
If what you are saying is important, then make sure everyone can hear it. People shouldn't have to crane their necks to try to hear you.
Projection — unlike shouting — instills a sense of confidence and clarity for what you're saying. If you have confidence in your thoughts, others will recognize that and really listen to you, not just hear you.
3. Make eye contact.
Another way to demand attention when you speak is to make eye contact with the people in the room. You shouldn't be staring at any one person and make him or her uncomfortable, but connecting in this way almost forces people to stay with you until you're finished speaking. This type of bond makes someone feel as if you are speaking only to him or her, not to a general audience with no face.
4. Don't fidget.
Spinning a pen or playing with your hands is distracting. If you're not 100 percent focused on the words leaving your lips, then no one else will be, either. If you want people to listen to you, sit up straight and talk with your mouth, not your hands.
This is difficult because it's human nature to incorporate body parts other than just our mouths when we communicate with people. But if you want people to look at you and listen to what you're saying, leave your hands alone.
5. Make every word count.
Avoid using filler words such as “like” and “um” because every word that comes out of your mouth should matter. This doesn't mean that you need to rehearse your thoughts before you share them, but if you are confident in yourself and what you want to say, then you shouldn't need to fill in blanks with fluff words.