Last week, I found myself getting a bit vocally technical, prompted by reading a recent research article done with a group of European students in their 20’s-40’s on indicators of vocal or more specifically, prosodic charisma.
What on earth is prosodic charisma, I hear many of you ask? Good question. Charisma, as usual referring to characteristics we see in others that we find compellingly attractive/desirable or charming, that can inspire feelings of wanting to be around them, liking them, desiring to devote oneself to them more. Plus, in the context of speaking, “prosody” is used here to refer to the qualities of the voice e.g. intonation, tone, stress, resonance and rhythm of our speech that may be linked with the perspective of the Speaker being perceived as “charismatic.”
As the results of the study suggested that Women could benefit from it in particular, this then lead me to a bit more of a deep dive down the research rabbit hole of the last decade of professional opinion, mixed opinion and debate that exists around what Women ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be doing with their voices to convey (or not) any particular character, let alone charisma, in an attempt to better make sense of why it might be that this article made a recommendation for the benefits of their prosodic charisma training for Women. Plus why it may still be, or not be in 2020 that we Women, let alone people full stop, are still holding back, or not feeling comfortable to put our biggest, brightest selves and what we really want to say out there in a professional setting, or in life. Relative to 15 years ago, when I first embarked on a healing journey around that, and started helping others do the same.
My aim in writing this, is to share some of the factors that are still impacting our ability to reach our full potential in professional self expression and shed some light on what we can do about them.
INDIVIDUAL AND CULTURAL FACTORS IMPACTING FEMALE EXPRESSIVENESS
1- The judgement police (and the kingdom of trolls that populate the toilet floor of the consciousness of the internet…and unfortunately for us all, 3rd dimensional daily life on Earth). In all fairness, many of you reading this will also be living in Australia, and no-one does judgement e.g. Tall Poppy Syndrome quite like us Aussies and few people are deemed immune from its reach. (For my overseas friends, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ refers to the cultural tendency of Australians to immediately embark on a personal character assassination of anyone who has achieved something great and or possibly greater than we have, often in groups, in an attempt to avoid and alleviate our own DEEP SEEDED FEELINGS OF INADEQUACY and “not-enough ness.”)
Globally though, and maybe this subconsciously still results because most women operate under the illusions that they are physically ‘weaker’ and therefore literally less likely to risk actually punching an attacker in the face for picking on them in the same way that 2 men might at 10pm in bar, or 10am on the footy field, if someone verbally disrespected them in the same way. Holistically speaking, we’re actually not “weaker”, but that’s a whole OTHER blog I wrote circa 2014/2015).
And/or maybe it’s still in part because many women have long been at an economic disadvantage at times and therefore may not have had equal resources to their male counterparts to be able to legally (metaphorically) slam people’s butts into the ground floor of karmic consequence for attacking them in public. (One only need look at social again too, or again the actual average work bathroom, to hear that we’ve well and truly developed private and public countermeasures over the years compensating for that.) BUT the point was, it DOES still seem that, globally, far too many people, publicly or privately, just LOVE to shred on the credibility of women. Any women….and….every….aspect…of….every….inch….of….a….woman, and what entitles her to be up there, saying that.
I don’t want to give this one anymore airtime than I just did. Because ultimately, it’s an outdated game we can choose to play, or not to play and I think there are better ways we can all be investing our energy than fighting and playing into the war on women’s credibility and likability. Like feeling into our purpose, our values, into our hearts and what we REALLY want to create and pouring our energy into that. Like speaking to how we want to be loved and supported, like how we can better support those we love, personally and professionally and going after that.
Like sending a prayer that the wounded children in grown adults across the world, who have time to creep on and shred others for a living, let alone for their own personal catharsis, get the support they need to heal and find their true, soulful purpose in the world. Meanwhile, we do self love and surround ourselves with groups of people who are committed to being the best versions of themselves and lifting each other up. And then you get sh%t done…while others keep on whinging about it.
As I talked to other colleagues about WHY women might be hiding their most awesome selves from the world throughout the week, other top answers on the professional survey board were:
2- The effects of Trauma and the fight flight response on our external expressiveness: One of the very real effects of our past traumas around such things (and other traumatic experiences) on our subsequent flight-flight reactions when we get in front of groups of people in the present, for all genders, can be that we go (technical trauma term) “grey faced” e.g. the literal loss of facial expressiveness and or colour and our voices become more monotone, as we mentally and physically do what is called dissociating from the experience as a coping response. This is basically both mentally, energetically and, to an extent, spiritually, pulling away from the intensity of having to feel your experience, as a coping mechanism. Good news, this one TOO we can overcome, with a range of different therapeutic and transformational techniques and tools and you CAN heal the intensity right out of it, and put centredness confidence, clarity and authentic charisma in it’s place.
3- “Professionalism preceding Personality”: Though this one can also impact all genders, it is the impact of ideas around professionalism and scientific objectivity that we place on certain occupations, on our communication style and the subsequent impact on perceived qualities of ‘vocal charisma’ that i'm referring to here. For example, Academia has a particularly distinctive communication style. As do the medical and scientific realms as a couple of examples. But in short, this is basically the impact on perceived vocal and behavioural charisma that results from the rules of the paradigm that require that we be objective over subjective, and rational over emotive, in both our observation, measurement and analytical processes, as well as in our management of the processes we develop during our research and/or in the treatment and management of patients or clients.
Especially, when it comes to delivering challenging news to patients, clients or groups of people, professional standards in paradigms that say that we need to be free of personal biases and feelings as we deliver the necessary information and manage the continuing processes. Yet free flowing in the expression of compassion and empathy where required. Which has both professional benefits and an element of necessity to getting high quality client care completed and or many jobs in these industries done, often in high pressure environments, under tight timeframes, without us bursting into a ball of emotive flames if we were to stop to take it all in.
YET, when it comes to switching gears and moving into the realm of professional speaking and recording training material, this communication style can have implications for our ability to convey more charisma when we speak, in front of a culture that now wants to see MORE of the REAL, authentic us, along with the lived experience that goes along with the knowledge you/we/they have to share. Skill wise, this then requires that we be able to shift gears back into allowing more personality to emerge for presentation purposes, in combination with professionalism. This, I have spent many years Coaching and Mentoring Practitioners, Leaders and Speakers in finding their balance with, in trying to navigate the requirements of both realms…and a little Coaching and Mentoring can be a quick route to overcoming any concerns here and getting some good quality feedback.
4- People-pleasing within the lingering remnants of the Patriarchy, or just people-pleasing full stop?: The 4th answer on our survey board, is symptomatic of what I call the first stage of finding the true power in your voice, the stage in which we tend to avoid speaking and want to NOT say anything awkward or potentially challenging, in case we rock the boat and incur a negative consequence. People pleasing though, like most things, has a light side to the coin and a dark side.
On the light side of people pleasing, our intention is to lovingly be of service and might be one of the driving, motivating forces in all we choose to do in the world. So to be clear, I’m not saying people pleasing is totally a bad thing. But what I am referring to, is addressing the shadow motivations for NOT speaking or expressing ourselves that we can still be playing out habitually, out of fear, and addressing the roots of why we’re doing it, so that we stop holding back our fullest, brightest, most intelligent, expressive selves.
On the dark one, possibly in personal and professional settings, we sometimes suppress things we really need to express out of fear of potential consequence. At some point, growing up with a family member or having lived in adult life with a partner or worked with an employer, team member or partner that could never be pleased and may have been abusive, people pleasing to appease their disapproval or criticism, or explosive outbursts, may have been a survival strategy at some point. People pleasing, can also be a means of avoiding taking responsibility. If we speak to what we really want, and get rejected, people pleasing delays an ending one may not be wanting or ready for. More than that, if we don't put your true opinion on the table, but put the popular one instead, we never have to be on the receiving end of critical feedback for getting it wrong, or responsible for the outcome.
But that also means we delay learning and growth in personal and professional settings into what some part of us deeply aspires to be and into succeeding in getting it right. Where business and projects are concerned, it also makes it hard to get the kind of honest feedback that will help develop a service, or product or project or presentation into a form that successfully fills it's desired purpose and is therefore, a success.
So how do we help women (and people full stop) grow through and into the positive potential of their people pleasing tendencies, so that they can get on with being more fully self expressed?
The answer to that is in both the personal development work we do to increase our awareness around what we're playing out, but Therapy, Coaching and Mentoring can also help us both shift our thinking, or state and our way of being, in the direction of reaching our highest potential.
The other part that also has to be to addressed is the environment the person is gaining support from and the literal reasons in the workplace or tribal culture, that Women or people full stop may be defaulting to such patterns and keep working on creating an environment in which they feel safe to naturally allow their most authentic, expressive, charismatic selves to flow forward in Leadership, Speakership and life. In which it's safe to get it wrong, as well as right and there's still love either way.
So long as there are still stories circulating of Women (and people) who are perfect for Leadership or front facing roles or speaking opportunities, that when they've showed up as their biggest, most expressive selves, and somebody in leadership's fragile ego felt threatened or inadequate or triggered or out of control in interacting with them, and it lead to ghosting, or firing, or break ups, or the withdrawal of resources or love or support of people, or being labelled difficult and a nightmare, when they didn’t do exactly what someone wanted, how they wanted it, when they wanted, then we're not done yet with adding a little more emotional intelligence training, Mentoring and Supervision, (plus personal development and occasional Therapy work) to both the Leadership, team and organisational training schedule and budget.
To help people of all genders better understand how to more effectively be with, collaborate with, lead and speak to strong, independent, intelligent, expressive Women (and people full stop) in the workplace and life. This too, i think remains an essential factor in helping our best female talent (and all talent) to feel safe to naturally allow their most authentic, expressive, charismatic selves to flow forward in Leadership, Speakership and life.
TECHNICAL IMPROVEMENTS WE CAN MAKE THAT HELP WOMEN LITERALLY BE BETTER HEARD
Finally, now there are some ways in which, from a purely technical standpoint, there ARE some actual physical differences between the way a female voice functions and the way a male voice functions that it’s handy to be aware of, in order to be able to compensate for them, to be a better Professional Speaker.
For example, while Women’s voices are now sitting at a pitch that is much lower than they were earlier in the century, female voices are still at a higher pitch than the majority of men, the literal mechanical downside to this being that, higher female voices apparently don’t carry as far through an open space/a venue (making it harder quite LITERALLY for a female voice to reach the back of the audience, without learning projection techniques or amplification, compared to a man’s). Older people or people with reduced hearing capacity may find it harder also to hear a higher pitched female voice and, also, apparently a higher pitched female voice, unfortunately more easily gets drowned out in amongst the cacophony of sounds and deeper voices that may be bouncing through the airwaves of a crowded space.
Knowing how to compensate for this, is mighty handy. Often Women try and be louder to compensate, but at the perceived expense of their tone then becoming “harsher.” A Speech or Language Therapist, Vocal Coach or Singing Teacher can help you understand how to make sound and project all of our voices, not just female ones, further, with greater (what they call) resonance, and less mechanical force made on your part to try and be heard. Bless the tech guys too, who can just mic you up right, so that you don’t HAVE to break your voice just trying to be loud enough or deep enough to be heard by the back rows of the room in the first place. Handy to know, before the world goes back to trying to get on big stages again.
AND THEN THERE’S THE NATURAL WAY…..
There IS though, a way we can begin to resolve some of the technical aspects of speaking (and free ourselves from the mental hangups above) a little more naturally too, as to be considered COMPLIMENTARY. As the organic product of a couple of additional mindset and state shifts we can make, I find the authenticity and the vocal expressiveness, will naturally tend to follow.
The thing that I love to help all Speakers find, maybe the most, is the part where you fall in love with YOU a little bit more. And fall in love with the idea that a whole bunch of people genuinely LOVE to both be around you when you’re BEING authentic, expressive you AND more than that, they love and are excited about hearing what you have to say. So that not only are you connected with YOU, and your passion and purpose in a way that you’re journeying through life hungering for more opportunities to express and share it, despite any lingering or new fears and hangups. But you’re also more open to sharing it with others in service because:
a) you’re coming from the belief that there are people who can’t wait to share in your knowledge with you
b) they genuinely NEED what you’ve got to say, it’s quite likely the literal answer to a prayer or an intention they’ve been putting out there… and who are you to hold back your wisdom, your talents, let alone the bits of you they might find intriguing, entertaining, funny and compelling, if you have the answer they seek;….entertain the idea for a moment, that it is your purpose to bring these things through
c) And this is really one of my favourites, you fully embrace the idea that you BELONG at the front of the room and
d) you freaking own that stage like you belong there, because you DO.
While this won’t completely eliminate the trolls of existence, creeping in the background, waiting for you to drop your guard, or the projections of the people we work with and love when they’re feeling down, it does help you remember your resolve through such moments, and stay in or step back into the arena again, twice as determined to keep having another go and show up even more. And this my friends, is precisely the point.
If I can help you with the further exploration of any of this, just let me know.
Until next time
Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.