Human beings pass judgement on others almost instantly – it’s something we’ve been programmed to do for our own survival. In a few seconds we’ve often decided not only if we like someone we’ve never seen before, but if they’re worth knowing, what their pay grade probably is, how well educated they are, and whatever else depending on our prejudices.
But first impressions aren’t always just about image. We apparently make judgements about people from their voice, and do so very quickly, and with a high degree of congruity. A study at the university of Glasgow had participants listen to different people say the word ‘hello’ and try to analyse their voices in terms of suggested traits. It used a scale in which 0 represents no agreement of a perceived trait and 1 reflects complete agreement; all 10 traits tested scored on average 0.92 – which suggests most people agreed very closely to what extent each voice represented each trait tested.
Interestingly the study found “A guy who raises his pitch becomes more trustworthy… Whereas a girl who glides from a high to a low pitch is seen as more trustworthy than a girl whose voice goes up at the end of the word.”
Of course you can’t change your voice dramatically because of it being created by physical organs, but aspects of your voice can change. Accent, especially in England, will often dictate how your class is perceived. Pitch might suggest to others confidence or dominance. The unfortunate thing is these impressions aren’t necessarily connected to reality- look at Truman Capote, whose warbling voice was less than inspiring but belonged to an incredibly confident and influential character.
What we can do is articulation and projection exercises to help create an impact with our voices, and if making a presentation little improves how the voice sounds more, than knowing your content.