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How to train yourself to speak like a leader

Apple CEO Steve Jobs during a keynote address to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
AP/Paul Sakuma
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By Zach Wener-Fligner

2014-15 Fellow. Quartz Things team.

This article is more than 2 years old.

When it comes to leadership, your voice matters. Deeper-voiced male politicians are more appealing to voters, and deeper-voiced male CEOs run larger companies, stay in charge longer, and make more money.

UCLA acoustic scientist Rosario Signorello has researched how to fine tune the vocal chords of men born without a baritone. “You have the capacity to shape your voice in a way that makes people perceive you as a leader,” he told the Wall Street Journal. (He has yet to do research on vocal qualities of female leaders, but said there “may be a charismatic voice just for women.”)

Here’s some of what it takes for men speak with high authority:

Don’t fake it

Figure you can do a decent Barry White impression (video)? Please don’t. Artificially lowering one’ s voice can produce a guttural, gravelly tone known as “vocal fry” which is perceived as less trustworthy. In a study at the University of Miami and Duke University, normal voices were found to be more appealing to employers than lowered voices over 80% of the time.

Use your whole register when public speaking

In a recent study of politicians’ vocal patterns, Signorello and colleagues analyzed the speeches of politicians in three different languages, and had subjects rate the charisma of the various speeches. (They used a synthesizer to maintain acoustic qualities of the voice while obscuring words and meaning.) They found that the speakers perceived as most charismatic were those who stretched their voices to extremes high and low.

Dial back when speaking with colleagues

In contrast, the UCLA researchers found that when speaking with other leaders, the politicians’ voices used far less range. That difference was even more pronounced when not talking about political issues.

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