Just as the clothes you wear form part of your image, a person’s voice is interpreted as a reflection of character. What does the manner in which you use your voice say about your character, and how does this contribute to your reputation – also known as your personal brand – as an EA, PA, Administrative Assistant or Office Manager?
Job Interviews: Voice As Yet Another Means to Impress A Prospective Employer
In earlier articles, I offered that body language is critical to success in a job interview. We want to strive for a relaxed entry to the interview room, stand tall and, depending on culture, offer a confident handshake and maintain eye contact, particularly when responding to questions. We want to present as relaxed and engaged, without offering a bobble-head image, readily nodding at and agreeing with any thoughts offered by others. Once we open our mouth to speak, we have the opportunity to either reinforce or eliminate all such positive representations of who we are, and why we’re the right candidate for the job.
Independent of what you know and the vocabulary you carry, your voice can project an air of confidence that reflects upon your reputation
A note, here, to those assistants currently engaged in a job search: if you’re inclined to view this as yours truly layering yet another daunting element to the job search process – “Great. Build and present a strong CV, dress appropriately, pay attention to my body language, come up with insightful questions … and pay attention to how my voice sounds?!” – it may help to, instead, consider attention to your voice as yet one more tool that can support your likelihood of success.
When faced with interview questions, consider not only your answer but the manner in which you frame it. Do you begin a sentence on an even keel, only to end it with your voice climbing upward, so that your statement winds up sounding more like a return question? There are instances when that may well be appropriate, but that’s not the case when you’re striving to present yourself as informed, competent and in control.
On the Job: What Do Your Tone and Modulation Say About You and Your Employer?
When someone phones your office to reach your executive or manager, your tone, confidence and approach reflect not only upon your organisation but upon you. If you’ve ever made a business phone call only to be greeted (as it were) by a disinterested voice dripping with boredom at the other end of the line, or by someone whose speech is excessively rapid or monosyllabic, you’ll have one impression of that organisation. If, on the other hand, you’ve been greeted by someone whose smile, goodwill, or supportive competence practically vibrate through the receiver, you’re likely to have a positive impression of both that person and his/her organisation.
When you represent your executive or department in a meeting, you’re impacting your brand not only by what you say – and don’t say! – but also by your tone or modulation, and the authority your voice lends to your words. Similarly, when you’re approached by a frustrated or irate client or associate, as all assistants eventually are, your voice can serve to either escalate or help diffuse a difficult situation.
Open Your Ears to the Office Around You, and Modulate that Voice
Before assessing your own modulation, open your ears to the office around you. Just as you may emulate people you admire in other aspects of career development, focus on people you’ve identified as successful communicators.
- Modulation: Such people are unlikely to speak in a monotone; rather, they’re likely to adjust to lower tones to convey thoughtfulness or a serious approach to a matter, and you’ll hear their voices rise – not excessively – to convey excitement or enthusiasm for a given thought or approach.
- Clarity – Neither A Mumbler, Nor a Low Talker Be: Effective breathing supports a strong speaking voice that does not run out of air as one approaches the end of a sentence. Nor do effective communicators let sentences drop off with a mumble. Hands up, please, if you remember the Seinfeld episode featuring the “low talker”.
- Intensity and Volume: While of course you want to be heard, and it makes sense to practice projecting your voice, intensity may be achieved without volume, and highly effective speakers can also project incredible intensity with a quiet voice for added impact.
- Pacing, Confidence and Authority: Consider the authority and confidence some people convey with their voices; how do they achieve this? Authority is not to be confused with speaking down to people or yelling. Rather, skilled speakers use a combination of modulation techniques. In addition to adjusting their tone, you’ll notice such people find a balance in pace. A well-placed silence is golden, and there’s a happy medium to be achieved: while peoples’ attention may wander when someone’s speaking voice is consistently slow, they may find it difficult to keep up with or understand a speaker whose pace is consistently rapid. You’ll find that the people whose voices you admire use a combination of pacing to convey different messages
Calm, Cool and Collected, or Harried and Distracted?
For an entirely unscientific experiment, consider placing a small mirror near your phone for a day or two.
Check for a glimpse of your face as you’re about to answer or place a phone call, and consider that the expression on your face is likely to be conveyed right through to the person at the other end of the call.
While many of our calls may come in at inopportune times, or imply additional demands that you know will involve additional juggling or time management strengths, that needn’t imply that we make this evident to others. Rather, a skilled assistant is one who is able to rise above such challenges to convey her/his positive brand through a voice that speaks positively about both you and your organisation.