Are you being heard? A women’s guide to speaking confidently
Written by Stefani Janson
Co-authored by Debra Lawrance
Edited by Georgia Smith
Even in 2018, many people are afraid of speaking their mind. But when it counts, every one of us needs to speak up and voice our opinions. Women face additional barriers when speaking: in a world historically dominated by male voices as authoritative and knowledgeable, women’s voices are often thought as grating and powerless, even though the content of what we say may be perfectly legitimate, intelligent and considered.
A few years ago I was fortunate to attend a seminar hosted by actress Debra Lawrance (of Home & Away and Please Like Me fame). Debra is on a mission to have “the incredible collective intelligence of women heard” through her workshop “Are you being heard?”. In her sessions, Debra helps women become more comfortable with their voices, through teaching her students the know-how of how to pronounce words and deliver them with confidence.
Debra has found all too often that “women are treated in the way they sound”. She seeks to improve women’s relationship with their voice – making them more dynamic in the way they speak so that their message is actually heard, rather than going through to the keeper. Debra, in her charming demeanor, classifies this work as absolute “secret women’s business”.
After learning from Debra’s workshop and understanding the pitfalls of an untrained voice, I must admit that even I have struggled to listen to some women speak. In some meetings, I have become distracted, even put off, as a result of how some women sound. In these situations I have closed my eyes to listen and have directly noticed a lack of conviction, scratching tones in their voice or a general lack of enunciation. This has been a sad experience for me, as oftentimes what is being said has high value. However, with a few simple techniques and tips to be aware of, these pitfalls can be avoided.
I would like to share some of the lessons learnt in this session, alongside some other tidbits I have picked up in my professional journey thus far, in aim of supporting all women to be rightfully heard.
Take the time to pronounce your words
There is never a need to speak quickly, especially at the cost of delivering your message effectively. Take the floor and speak slowly and wholly. Why? Australians have a tendency to speak lazily, and whilst we may enjoy the humour in this cultural quirk, it is best avoided in a professional environment. Shortening words and rushing through them actually undermines the legitimacy of the message How can you get better at this? I would highly recommend you record yourself speaking a passage: it could be a newspaper article, a passage from a book or a poem. You then need to listen back to the recording and see where you fall short. Have a friend that is in public speaking, debating or performing? Get them to look at the recording with you, as they will likely have been trained in speaking and can help you workshop where you can improve.
Women have a tendency to avoid using the lower ranges in their voices to avoid sounding masculine. However, multiple studies have found that for women seeking authority and leadership, using the depth of your tones is actually advantageous. One such example is the study published in the journal PLOSOne, which documented a bias toward low-pitched voices even when the owners of those voices are seeking to lead female-dominated bodies such as boards. The results of this study found low-pitched voices continually were favoured, despite that those voices were seeking "feminine" leadership roles. The finding of lower-pitched voices as more authoritative was found to be consistent regardless of social context and gender of those evaluating the voices. Take advantage of this: start using those rich tones at the bottom of your register in everyday life.
Remove the scratchiness
When some people speak, they have a scratchy tone to their voice which results in a less than clean sound. This is a very subtle thing and it is difficult to diagnose, let alone explain in an article. For a greater idea of what this is with some exercises to combat scratchiness, see this link.
Having a strong, powerful yet pleasant voice is an invaluable tool for developing your career. Take the time to critique your own sound and adopt some of the suggested techniques if you feel the need. Do not underestimate the value of asking for help from family, friends or co-workers - ultimately they are the ones listening to you most frequently. Take ownership of your speech and work to perfect it: you have a voice that deserves to be heard!
Looking for more resources?
In Tara Moss’ book, ‘Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls’, she touches on these topics and more in great depth–a highly recommended read.
Interested in one-on-one voice coaching?
Debra is on a mission to help as many women Australian women as possible. In her work she has found “some women are shy, some women have been told to be quiet and some are just nervous”. Debra’s work assists with these issues to help them feel like “they are not alone”.
I usually dread attending professional development workshops and have found them to be unnecessarily obligatory: largely a sap of time with little benefit. That was until I attended Debra's workshop.
Debra has made an exclusive offer to Navigator faithfuls to conduct a day workshop for 8 participants, where she has offered a significantly discounted price of $250 per person. The workshop will be hosted in the Melbourne CBD from 10am-4pm on 8 October 2018.
If you are interested in this workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line titled “Workshop with Debra Lawrance”.