business woman giving presentationThe human voice represents one of our most distinctive and powerful communication capabilities. It conveys a subtlety and depth of meaning that usually far exceeds the level of effort we make to properly use it! Time to change that. So, here are three ways your voice matters to how you’re perceived, and what you can do to improve:

1. In her 2014 book, Executive Presence, author Sylvia Ann Hewlett cites overwhelming research that shows the pitch of your voice is very important. When it comes to being perceived as a leader, the sound of your voice matters twice as much as what you’re talking about! And if that’s not enough? Hewlett finds, “Optimally pleasing voices win the biggest leadership roles, and earn the biggest salaries.” Wow. What is “optimally pleasing?” Research shows it’s a frequency around 125 Hz. For comparison, James Earl Jones checks in at 85 Hz, Roseanne Barr at 377 Hz. This discussion is particularly relevant for women whose native voices typically hover in a higher-frequency range. If yours does, take steps to lower your pitch by making better use of your vocal anatomy. Consult a professional communication coach for guidance, and practice. Bottom line, Hewlett finds “a drop of 22 Hz in voice frequency correlate(s) with a $187,000 bump in compensation and a larger company size.”

2. The human body is about 60% water, but an estimated 75% of Americans are walking around at least mildly dehydrated. No part of your body is more conscious of thirst than your vocal chords. We all know the amount of speaking required for a presentation can strain your voice. Dehydration speeds this process and can make your voice sound thinner, weaker, and shrill (see above). One of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your vocal quality? Drink some water! That’s eight to ten cups a day for most people. Warm water is particularly soothing, especially when a little honey or even some lemon is added. But beware of coffee and tea—they’re dehydrating.

3. Speaking in public is guaranteed to provoke a psychosomatic response, no matter who you are or how many times you’ve done it. Controlling and focusing the “nerves” that result is a function of purposeful practice. A key way to short circuit your jitters and improve your vocal quality—breathe. It sounds so simple, but a few diaphragmatic deep breaths before you speak, and then allowing for pauses—and breaths—during your presentation will lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and level of anxiety. Your audience will hear a voice that's stronger, more powerful, and more leader-like.