Preface: This is the kind of issue that can be hard to find, unless one has unlimited time to search all sources and for better or ill, I don’t. Ethics Alarms is still feeling the effects of losing the regular services of topic scout Fred, who had a remarkable reach, finding ethics issues in all sorts of places I never would (though Fred does drop by here to comment, and I am grateful for that, as well as his long service.) I really do depend on the readers for tips, particularly in the non-political arena. Even the news aggregating sites like The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller, the Blaze and Huffington Post have become more politics obsessed than ever, so Ethics Alarms has to dig deeper and go farther. Some of our best discussions have arisen out of obscure venues. So please: keep an ye open, and write me at firstname.lastname@example.org/
Ann Althouse found this, from The Cut:
There are many fascinating, upsettingdetails in the story of Elizabeth Holmes, but my favorite is her voice. Holmes, the ousted Theranos founder who was indicted last year on federal fraud charges for hawking an essentially imaginary product to multi-millionaire investors, pharmacies, and hospitals, speaks in a deep baritone that, as it turns out, is fake. Former co-workers of Holmes told The Dropout, a new podcast about Theranos’s downfall, that Holmes occasionally “fell out of character” and exposed her real, higher voice — particularly after drinking. One can only assume the voice will be discussed in the upcoming HBO documentary, too.
To begin with, as anyone can hear from the video above, Theranos did not and does not speak in deep baritone voice, which tells us immediately that the author, Katie Heaney, doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Neither, apparently, does Ann, who directs us to another video and describes Holmes’ voice as “a ludicrous phony voice.” There’s nothing ludicrous about it, and if she is not using a ventriloquist, it’s not phony either.
As a professional stage director who has coached people, including women, regarding their speech for almost 50 years, this is something I know about, and it is something of a pet peeve: too many individuals handicap their careers and lives by adopting speaking styles, including voice pitches, that are difficult to listen to, or that do not convey positive messages to listeners. This is especially true of women.
Again, we have an area in which there is politically motivated distortion going on from the Left. I’ve never seen the term in print, but we will eventually; “Voicism,” which would be alleged discrimination based on how someone sounds. To a remarkable extent, we have the power to control how we sound, in all respects—vocabulary, pace, accents and pitch. To say woman is using a “fake voice” is like saying that saying that her appearance is fake if she makes herself look as attractive as possible with grooming, make-up and deportment.
Lower pitched voices convey strength and maturity because they don’t evoke the voices of children. That’s logical, and instinctive. They are also easier to listen to. I know it is politically incorrect to admit it, but this is a male advantage in all jobs involving speaking and communication. One reason, for example, that the ranks of trial lawyers are overwhelming male is that a high-pitched voice is a handicap in a courtroom. So is a soft voice.
If Holmes has a naturally high-pitched voice, her decision to cultivate a lower one is simply good life management. It is no more unethical than overcoming an accent that is harsh to the ear or that makes one difficult to understand; it is smart and responsible. The major difference is whether a woman talks up in her “head voice,” was we call it in acting, or using her chest voice, which is what you hear in the video. Chest voices convey professionalism and trust (though maturity), head voices project girlishness. I bet Holmes never giggled either. Good choice. It is a bit unusual for a woman who has trained herself to speak in a lower voice to slip into a higher one in private, if only because learning to speak properly takes practice and consistency: this is like having good manners in public but behaving like an uncouth slob around the family. Both voices, and all the ones in between, are still “real.”
The Cut article’s author bizarrely analogizes speaking in a lower tone with using a fake accent. Wrong: people use fake accents to suggest that they are from somewhere they are not. That’s flat-out deception; it’s acting, and con-artist stuff when it occurs in a non-dramatic setting. Eliminating a toxic accent, one that sparks biases or that makes on difficult to understand, is, again, just an intelligent and responsible life choice. I’ve played the “My Fair Lady” video too many times here already, but Henry Higgins (that is, George Bernard Shaw as translated by Allen J. Lerner) is right:
Should be antique. If you spoke as she does, sir,
Instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!
I suppose what offends me by the article is that it might discourage young women from addressing the speech pathologies that handicap them. Voices are our tools, and we should learn to use them properly. Speaking through the nose, or high in the head, or using vocal fry is just incompetent, ignorant, and needlessly irritating to people who have to listen to you.
It isn’t only women, of course. Gay men who speak in stereotypical gay cadences and tones are essentially telling the world that they are gay with every sentence. I don’t care whether you are gay, but I don’t need to be reminded of it constantly either, and by indulging yourself you are asking to be discriminated against, or for a judgment that you regard your sexual orientation as your top priority in life. I cannot bear to listen to Baltimore Orioles color man Mike Bordick, a former player, who habitually talks through his nose…
This is easy to fix, and he is no longer a player, he is supposedly a professional broadcaster. I resent professionals who don’t make an effort to improve their skills: it’s an insult to those they serve. If I were directing him in a play, I would stop him in rehearsals every time he let his voice creep up into his sinuses, and he would either learn, or get fired.
In summary, you are not being deceptive or signaling a lack of trustworthiness by learning to speak in the most pleasing, effective, competent manner possible consistent with your career and life objectives. Elizabeth Holmes was a scamster, but choosing to speak in a lower voice is no more unethical for her than for any other professional.
Post script: What if Holmes’ “real” voice sounds like this?
28 thoughts on “Q: “What Kind Of Person Fakes Her Voice?” A: “A Competent One.””
This raises a question: Would AO-Cortez still sound like a twelve year old if she didn’t sound like a twelve year old?
Great examination of an interesting subject, Jack. I have often explained to my wife, in the past, that if she wants to get ahead in business, she has to think like a man.
She eventually embraced that idea, and it helped her enormously. Women have a cultural disadvantage in business, and just as they are forced by cultural norms to make up their faces, wear uncomfortable and even downright dangerous shoes, and find ways to navigate the world of men handicapped by their gender and associated preconceptions.
Women using every ethical tool at their disposal, including clothing, makeup, and yes, voice pitch to overcome these biases inherent in a male-dominated business climate are not unethical or wrong. They are savvy, smart, and in my view, indicative of a person who understands the world as it is rather than trying to summon the world that they wish existed.
Even men doing the same is not unethical, it is smart and savvy. In fact, instead of criticizing this woman, those of us in business should praise her for her fearless intelligence. Instead of making me think less of her, this nonsense makes me think the exact opposite.
As to the Cut writer, she is an idiot, and deserves the wages thereof.
Careful with the praise of Holmes. She was a massive fraud who made billions (and then lost it) through lies and deceit. I feel like picking on her voice is straining at a gnat.
You raise a point we have to deal with a lot: can we praise components of unethical people or criminals without endorsing them? Sure we can. Many of Holmes’s skills and tactics were just smart business; she didn’t have to use them for a scam. Harvey Weinstein had a gift for finding talent and promising vehicles. Danny Kaye was one of the greatest entertainers of all time, but an utter bastard. Newt Gingrich did a lot right; Phil Spector was a genius; Nixon had skill and guts; So did Bill Clinton. Lots of bad people have useful lessons to teach. A completely ethical and very useful management course could be constructed using only the best conduct of crooks, rogues, knaves and sociopaths.
I agree; I was more focused on Glenn’s “praise for her fearless intelligence.”
I meant to expand on the straining at the gnat. I also agree that taking issue with her voice is problematic. It feels like these days that people want to dogpile those who have done wrong and pick apart every little thing instead of focusing on the wrong itself.
Bingo. It’s easier than serious and objective analysis.
This point is well-taken. The argument that Holmes’s fraud included making herself more convincing through voice coaching, however, doesn’t undermine Jack’s argument.
I, too, have done a fair amount of voice coaching, mostly in teaching people how to do reads for radio and other voicework. The sound of a voice can be enormously powerful;. It can sell ideas, concepts and products, and as far as the person possessing that voice is concerned, it can be quite rewarding.
Consider the actors who make major bank for the comparatively easy work of voicing animated movies. Or consider Mike Rowe, who has made a bloody fortune narrating Deadliest Catch and several other Discovery Channel shows; he was also the guy who did Dirty Jobs. He’s a brilliant, generous, provocative and very funny guy (look up his TED talk on YouTube) but what made his fortune for him is his voice. It’s fabulous. And it’s not a coincidence that he trained to be an opera singer.
I used to live in a rural section of northern Maine. I have loved the Maine dialect (actually, there are subtle differences between the coastal and the northern ones) since I was a kid – the pronunciation of certain vowel sounds, the periodic addition of the “r” sound at the end of words ending in a vowel, and especially some of the idiomatic expressions and aphorisms are all marvelous.
Curiously, most of the guys I worked with who grew up there spoke that way. Most of the gals of the land worked very hard to lose it- and only revealed it during moments of stress – because they thought it made them sound like rubes.
I had many a conversation with those women trying to convince them that it was actually something of which they should be fiercely proud, in no small part because of the richness of the dialect and the fact that regional dialects like this – which are treasures – are fading fast. I doubt I changed any minds, and the gals were probably right.
Jack is on the money here. Successful people generally present themselves in the most effective way possible. It’s true that con artists do too, but there are a lot fewer of them.
Except in politics, of course.
If an honest politician makes a statement in the middle of the forest and no one is there to hear it, did he or she still lie?
Trick question: there are no honest politicians
Well, her every action may not be praiseworthy. That doesn’t change the fact that the subject of this post is.
I assume the likes of Al Gore switching into “black preacher” mode and dialect (or any such ruse) to imply to an audience that he’s “one of them” falls into the “fake accent” category? How about Liz Warren “Gonna get me a beer”?
That’s a fake accent, or perhaps just “stupid.”
I have relied on my voice for every job I’ve ever had. In my experience, it’s important to meet people where they are if you want to connect with them. Some people find perfect elocution and vocabulary condescending (they shouldn’t, but that’s another story), while others will instantly judge your intelligence and education if you make a single mistake.
It’s not unusual for my voice to slip into a Southern twang when speaking with someone in Mississippi or become quicker when speaking with someone in New Jersey. I tend to match the flow of conversation. It makes the other person more comfortable; consequently, it makes me more successful at my job.
Of course, I’ve also worked for years on my voice ever since a communications class in high school emphasized the importance of voice and diction in any kind of verbal exchange. I’ll never forget the teacher explaining the importance of voice to television reporters by asking the class, “Does Bryant Gumbel sound like a black man?”
I know what you mean; it’s hard not to be just a little “chameleonish” when interacting with others, especially if they’re not from your normal group(s). That can often be a subconscious act, and many people instinctively do it. There can be a fine, but often glaringly obvious, line between that and a condescendingly fake performance.
I can’t imagine a woman who’s not a transgender, speaking in a deep baritone voice. Perhaps an alto or a contralto, but not a deep baritone: She would sound like the late Johnny Cash.
Nobody who knows what a “deep baritone voice” is could call her voice that. It is a unremarkable contralto. Even Lucille Ball, after her voice dropped octaves after menopause, was never a baritone.
It is interesting to hear you encourage a woman to use a loud chest voice. This goes exactly counter to my voice teachers. Admittedly, my voice teachers were focusing on a singing voice, not a speaking one, but every voice teacher/choir director I have had made chest voices verboten. If, they said, you must use a chest voice for a difficult piece that stretches your range, you must make sure to be soft. Chest voices, especially at louder volume, can wreck your singing voice quickly. As an example, they would point out several popular singers. One example is Bonnie Tyler. You can listen to her voice degrade over the years as she loudly sings in a deep (for a woman) throaty voice. Is the reason that they held a view opposite yours due, in your opinion, to the difference between spoken and singing voice, or a difference of opinion?
Singing and speaking are distinct vocal functions. Speaking does indeed sometimes damage singing voices. It was belting (which is chest voice singing) and speaking on stage that wrecked Julie Andrews’ voice ultimately. But Bonnie Tyler is an extreme example, the most extreme I know. Most singers can continue to keep their singing voice in shape if they use their chest voices properly. In opera and operettas, however, there is no need for classical female singers to use their chest voices.
Thank you for the explanation.
I personally have the opposite problem. My natural voice is indeed a deep baritone that goes all the way down to Bass-1 and touches Bass-2 territory. That kind of low register is hard for people to hear.
The simple solution is that I’ve made a lifetime habit of pitching my voice up an octave so that I sound clearer. But when I’m tired, it drops back down to the natural “Oh Yeah” zone.
The upside of this is that I have a much wider vocal range than most people do. I’ll never be a soprano unless I strain and sound bad but I can go anywhere between alto and bass. I can do spot-on impressions of Kermit the Frog and Eeyore and quickly go back and forth between them.
I can also effortlessly project my voice to speak to a group because I’m kinda-sorta always doing it. I’ve been told many times that I sound like a radio announcer.
So yes, learning to use your voice properly is an essential life skill.
(especially if you have a face for radio like I do.)
I don’t disagree with the overall assessment here, but her voice does sound “faked” to me, and I would be annoyed to listen to her for extended period.
It sounds faked because you were told it was faked. That’s classic confirmation bias. I hear all ranges of voices, strange and unique. Nobody thinks, “She’s using a fake voice.” It’s a voice. I never gave any thought to Michael Jackson’s voice: I assumed he spoke the way he spoke. Then I learned that his natural voice was a baritone, like all of his brothers. After that, I started thinking his voice sounded “fake.”
Jack, it sounds “faked” to me because it sounds like she is lowering her voice well below her normal register. Perhaps it’s bad voice training, but it isn’t confirmation bias.
In fact, I had read your thoughts before listening to the video clip with her speaking, and expected to hear a natural-sounding low-pitched feminine voice. What I heard instead was a voice much like I’ve heard before in women impersonating men, and at several points it’s croaky. She’s straining against the very lowest end of her natural register.
Well heck, if you can read my thoughts you have an unfair advantage!
Many naturl voices can “sound fake” if one is inclined to think that way. For example, almost anyone could imitate Jimmy Durante’s voice, and just about everyone did. But was HE faking it for effect? That never occurred to me when he was alive, and my Dad had all his records. People assume that the way you speak is the way you speak, unless they have heard you speak some other way. If, however, a biographer revealed that “the Schnozz” used a different voice off stage, I’d think, “Of course!”
I agree that it’s not a particularly nice voice, and I agree that it’s about as low as she can talk. After the description as her speaking in a “low baritone,” however, and Ann’s “ridiculous,” I expected something unusual or jaw-dropping, and it’s just not. I’ve read a lot about Theranos, and nobody I read mentioned her voice at all. If she sounded like she could solo in “Old Man River,” I’m pretty sure it would have sparked comment before her scam was exposed. No?
The first time that I heard her interviewed on television (long before her fall) I thought that her voice was obviously being “pushed” to a lower register than her natural voice. It actually made it a bit difficult to truly hear what she was saying because I kept focusing on how wrong her voice sounded for her. I think that she pushed it too far. I didn’t categorize it as “faked” though – it just came across to me that she was trying too hard to produce a specific vocal type.
I may also be a bit sensitive to this because I received advice many years ago that I needed to lower my voice when speaking on the phone in order to be credible. I never have problems with credibility in person based on my physical presence, but over the phone I sounded like a teenager because my voice is high pitched. (People would meet me after working with me on the phone and be a bit surprised at my size).
I never figured Ethics Alarms would feature a woman’s naked breasts. I’m also surprised YouTube left it up.
Not that I’m complaining, I do happen to be a heterosexual male.
Well, it was a Carl Reiner scripted and directed Steve Martin/Kathleen Turner comedy…hardly risque. There are also naked breasts in Airplane! and Animal House.
She was a massive fraud who made billions (and then lost it) through lies and deceit … such as her age and looks and and demeanor (including voice) which were all part of HER FRAUD, albeit the only genuine part. People are still letting her off easy because of her gender, packaging and using her as a rule-proving exception, a one-off because of the amount of money involved and for no other reason. Instead, I will look into my (genuine, I assure you) crystal ball and predict that as women earn (or force) their way further and further into all the male bastions they wish to “equalize,” they will approach the same percentage of crookedness as all the other risen groups have. At each level come first the individuals – in business, or sport or politics, ad infinitum – then the crowd competing wildly behind until a “norm” has been approached (never quite reached: the same separations of non-equality abide), – followed once again by individuals in the same proportion as their erstwhile superiors who exhibit the same lack of ethics or new and improved criminal abilities. Remember the name: Elizabeth Holmes, Mother of Health Research Fraud.