Women are all too aware that how they say things can be just as important as what they say, whether in a meeting, giving a speech, or when presenting information via YouTube, a podcast, or the other multi-media forms that are part of the growing world of social media. There is a double-standard in the hyperattention to a woman’s appearance, mannerisms, and voice in the media and workplace, but until we have true gender equality, women do not want to distract from an important message because of the way it is delivered.
Some of the vocal pitfalls people are paying attention to (perhaps too much?) and which are better avoided by anyone:
A Soft-Spoken Voice: Some people may be naturally more soft-spoken, but when trying to capture attention or convey a message, its importance will be not be given as much value as if it were relayed with a strong, steady voice. This is a skill that can be learned with practice, or lessons in public speaking. It is not always easy for everyone (of either gender), but there is social conditioning that women should be less aggressive and speak in a more mild-mannered voice than men. As social media communication expands, it is increasingly important that women speak with the same authority that they carry in their subject matter.
Up-talking: Is the speech pattern of ending sentences as if they were questions when they are not. This has been said to convey youth and uncertainty, and can lead the audience to question your expertise and confidence. As pointed out in this video, it can be particularly undermining to up-talk when introducing yourself.
Valley Girlish: This doesn’t need much of an introduction. Um, like, it isn’t difficult to um, know, why um, it is hard to, like , take someone, like seriously, who um, like, talks um, sorta like this.
Vocal Fry: Vocal Fry is a low-toned raspiness that many women in pop culture have acquired. You may feel inclined to hand over a cough drop, but research says many young women believe it makes them sound more educated and upwardly mobile. However, it should not be a huge surprise that vocal fry has been found to be damaging to credibility and job prospects when you realize Kim Kardashian is the fry-master. See this video from Duke University.
Feminist Naomi Wolfe, wrote an article recently encouraging women to abandon this growing vocal fry trend that has had an unsettling presence in the vernacular, in order to regain a strong voice, both literally and metaphorically. This view has already been widely criticized as a way to devalue what women say, by finding yet another distraction from a woman’s ideas, as explained in more length by the blog language: a feminist guide.
This endless policing of women’s language—their voices, their intonation patterns, the words they use, their syntax—is uncomfortably similar to the way our culture polices women’s bodily appearance. Just as the media and the beauty industry continually invent new reasons for women to be self-conscious about their bodies, so magazine articles and radio programmes like the ones I’ve mentioned encourage a similar self-consciousness about our speech.
Regardless of your sociopolitical views on how much women should try to change any natural or acquired speech patterns, everyone can benefit by avoiding common habits that detract from the message of the speaker. This video below is an entertaining exaggeration of how speech can be distracting to the audience you are working to engage.