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Voices Carry

What havoc hath Alexander Graham Bell wrought?
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Charlie had it all. He was suave, sophisticated, and he had three beautiful private eyes to do his bidding. Oh, sure, the real draw of Charlie's Angels wasn't Charlie. But while every other 11-year-old in America was ogling Cheryl Ladd, myself included, what I really coveted was The Voice coming from the box.

Fast forward to the 1990s. Nobody's heard Muzak like I've heard Muzak, and I get my messages returned not within hours, but within what seems like years. A few years ago, I delivered a voice mail so pathetic, I later parachuted out of an airplane, hoping to scare myself so badly that answering machines would no longer wrack my nerves. (It didn't work.)

Every year, $55 billion is spent by U.S. companies to train employees, with more than 60 percent of em learning how to use that phone better. Telephone skills are important. As entrepreneur Anna Bernstein of New York City says, "Your phone voice is your identity, and it has a lot to do with whether people trust you and want to do business with you."

I believe it. As a writer, I interview subjects on the phone, and have long-standing business relationships with publicists and editors, and yet I often only know these people through their voices. In fact, I've spoken dozens of time with the editors at Entrepreneur and, for all I know, the staff resembles The Addams Family. (However, I've heard many rumors they all strongly favor the cast of Melrose Place. And, after conversing for months with an unseen colleague, my mind naturally drifts: "I wonder how old this woman is. I wonder if she has blue eyes. I wonder what she would look like in leather and spike heels."

I guess it's just as well we sometimes don't see the people we hear. I once met an attractive editor for lunch, after a yearlong telephone business relationship. Her first words to me were, "You look different than I thought you would." She didn't elaborate; I was afraid to ask her to. Perhaps she wanted Tom Cruise and felt she got Tom Arnold.

Now e-mail is threatening to wipe out even voice contact, which could be a blessing. Should Charlie's Angels ever return, maybe ol' Chuck will deliver his assignments via a modem. If so, I'd like to start alerting casting agents now. I can type :-) with the best of them.

It's Not What You Say...

It's how you say it. Here are three voices Anna Bernstein loves:

1. Patrick Stewart: "His natural voice is soothing and sexy. He has the unique ability to sound attractive to both men and women."

2. Lauren Bacall: "She pronounces everything so clearly, yet doesn't sound as if she's trying. Her smoky register is a gift, and she knows how to let it rise and fall."

3. Madeline K. Albright: "She always sounds dignified and serious, yet human. She allows her personality into her voice, but you always know she's the Secretary of State. Her throat is open when she speaks, which signals she's being honest."

Three voices Bernstein wants to help:

1. Al Gore: "He's been pumping up the volume in his speeches in an effort to sound more exciting. He should use pitch rather than loudness."

2. Maria Bartolomo, CNBC's "Money Honey": "'Maria, please stop shouting in the floor of the Exchange!' We would be much happier listening to her if she let her voice drop to its natural bottom."

3. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX): "Nasal, nasal, nasal! He pushes so hard into his nasal cavity that he sounds forced and insincere. It turns off more people than it impresses and makes him appear stubborn."

Contact Source

Voice Success, (212) 687-1144,

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