Investing in Your Vocal Image: A Tale of Two Strategies Investing in Your Vocal Image: A Tale of Two Strategies

 In Presence, Vocal Image

Recently, a female executive, we’ll call her Joann, came to me, complaining that too often at the end of a long day she left the office with a hoarse voice and a feeling of utter exhaustion. All she wanted to do was to go home, curl up with a good book and tune everyone nearby out.

Joann admitted that things at work were more stressful than usual. While she was intensely focused on trying to secure additional funding for her growing company, her voice giving out at the end of the day was a new and troublesome problem.

Strategy 1: Getting back in shape

We spent some time getting her voice back in shape by raising her pitch to a more natural level and developing some resonance so that she didn’t need to work so hard at being heard. She was surprised at how easy it was to lift the strain from her voice, even though it took a bit of time to become comfortable speaking in this new way, especially on the phone.

Joann is gregarious by nature. She loves to spin a good story and she always has plenty of color and detail to make any subject she talks about come to life. She is also clear, compelling and strong. She uses humor well and easily draws people into a conversation: All ingredients of a great public speaker. (For more information on presentations skills for executives, please read this recent post from Kathy Reiffenstein on Professionally Speaking.) However, I observed that her vocal choices might be getting in the way of her efforts to raise money for her company.

Strategy 2:  Presenting a deal-maker voice

Two business people shaking hands

I asked whether she was having success with her funding efforts, particularly with her presentations. Joann confessed that although she was not scaring potential investors off, she wasn’t closing any deals either. I asked her if she would make her presentation to me. Her content was clear and compelling, but her vocal image, specifically the cadence of her voice, was not aligned with her message or intent.

One of the things that make Joann sound so friendly is a habitual upward pitch, or open cadence, at the end of her sentences that invite people into the conversation. The problem is she uses this cadence even when she is making a declaration. The upward cadence (“upspeak”) causes her to seem indecisive and, even worse, wishy-washy– not exactly the impression she wanted to give a potential investor. *

Determined to get support for her company, Joann was game to try a new approach. We worked on her cadence and other aspects of her vocal image. Cadence is sometimes difficult for people to hear; it is related to pitch and inflection and some people may have to do some ear-training in order to hear it, but with patience and regular attention the difference between open and closed cadence becomes apparent. Within a short time, Joann heard the difference and was at choice with her vocal-isms. She landed the investments she needed and started to go home feeling fulfilled rather than exhausted.


Today, people see Joann as both authoritative and open. She makes conscious vocal choices to close a deal or make a friend — situations which require two different vocal strategies.

*The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation posts a daily blog that includes information on communication styles and gender differences in the workplace and as individuals, as well as conflict resolution.  Its authors are some of the foremost authorities on negotiating today.

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