In March 2019, HBO released a damning documentary about one of the most divisive newsmakers in recent history. No, it’s not Michael Jackson and the two-part Leaving Neverland documentary that rocked the news cycle for a few weeks there. Instead, we’re talking about the other documentary released that month, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which followed the rise and fall of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
And just as Leaving Neverland has overshadowed the release of The Inventor, one of Holmes’s most characteristic traits is getting more attention than some of the revelations featured in the two-hour production… Not her creepy eyes and unwillingness to blink (that’s a thing), nor is it her Steve Jobs-esque wardrobe (yep, that’s a thing too). Instead, a lot of focus is being placed on Holmes’s signature baritone voice, which some are beginning to question more than they questioned the feasibility of her patented “Edison” blood testing machine.
For those who have yet to hear Holmes speak, we’ve included a recording of a TED Talk the one-time Silicon Valley starlet gave during simpler times in 2014. Just listen to her voice and let us know if you think it sounds natural or not.
In an article in W Magazine released shortly after the documentary first aired, Andrea Park writes:
“That confusing baritone has become as much a part of Holmes’s lore as her Steve Jobs–inspired uniform of black turtlenecks, her disarmingly wide eyes, and her ability to lie for years to the American public about the so-called technological advancements Theranos was making and build a multibillion-dollar company on top of this teetering pile of lies. Holmes’s deep voice wasn’t a secret—nearly everyone interviewed in John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood [a book on which the documentary was partly based] recalls being initially disoriented by it, and it’s audible in every recording of the founder’s many speaking engagements during her heyday—but it still shocked many who tuned in to the premiere of The Inventor.”
In a podcast on Theranos and Holmes released in early 2019, one of the inventor’s former employees shared the belief that this “confusing baritone” voice was not the one-time billionaire’s natural voice.
“It was maybe at one of the company parties and maybe she had too much to drink or whatnot, but she fell out of character and exposed that that was not necessarily her true voice,” former Theranos employee Ana Arriola said on The Dropout (via the New York Post). “Maybe she needed to be more convincing to project a persona within a room among male [venture capitalists]. I’m not really quite sure.”
And maybe that’s the case.
Jay Miller, a voice in speech coach, told the New York Post that female entrepreneurs may feel the need the make affectations to their voices in order to put themselves on the same playing field as the men in those settings.
“Some people may feel the need to counteract the initial impression they may give off of being young or inexperienced by effecting a lower, more authoritative voice,” Miller said. “But hearing the recordings, she is definitely speaking in a range that doesn’t sound authentic.”
The New York Post cited a joint study by Duke University and the University of California that found that CEOs with lower-pitched voices tend to do better financially than their higher-pitched counterparts. The study found that a 25 percent decrease in vocal pitch could be associated with an average increase of $187,000 in annual salary.
So there could be something there. Maybe that’s how Holmes was able to secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from investors over the years, even when she didn’t have a fully tested or market-ready product.
Maybe her voice had that much of an impact on those trigger happy venture capitalists out there.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.