Since Hillary Clinton’s voice has received so much media attention lately—whether it’s annoying, and whether it’s sexist to find her voice annoying—I wanted to add some insights on what makes a for a good speaking voice.
To some extent, this is all subjective. For example, one person might think the character Janice on Friends has the most annoying voice in the world, and another might not mind her voice much at all. But in general terms, research has identified trends.
We do find some voices more attractive than others … just like we find some people more attractive than others. Fair or not, it’s a fact of life.
People tend to like voices that convey authority, competence, industriousness, sensitivity, and warmth (Zuckerman & Driver, 1989). Conveying all of these traits at once can become complicated. Although many people, women included, manage to successfully convey these traits concurrently.
To convey authority and competence, speak at an appropriate volume—loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that you shout at you audience. Avoid filler words—pauses in which you fill the space with vocal utterances like “um,” “uh,” “like,” etc. Also, make sure that you are breathing from your diaphragm. (Here is a great exercise for developing your diaphragm.)
To sound industrious, you should speak at a reasonably fast rate. Do not speak so slow that the audience is bored trying to listen to you. Also, make sure that your vocal tone varies. If you sound monotone, the audience will find you low energy and be bored listening to you.
Sensitivity and warmth can be more nuanced and difficult to convey. They come from vocal variety, but also a hint of breathiness at the right moment, a slight uptick in energy that indicates true emotion. Try focusing on the emotion behind your message as you deliver your presentation. Also, make sure that you are developing a presentation style that is authentic to who you are as a person. You can borrow techniques from Oprah or Ivanka Trump, but if you steal one person’s entire style, you will seem inauthentic, and the audience will feel that inauthenticity.
Zuckerman, M., & Driver, R.E. (1989). What sounds beautiful is good: The vocal attractiveness stereotype. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior., 13, 67-82.