If you’re talking to someone one-on-one, or if you’re in a meeting with just a few people, you probably don’t have difficulty being heard, even if you have a soft voice. On the other end of the scale, if you are speaking to a large audience, you will almost certainly have amplification, and the sound technician will make sure your audience can hear you.
In some circumstances, though, you might find yourself in front of a medium-sized group of, say, 20 to 60 people, with no microphone in sight. Workshop presenters, team managers and teachers are examples of people who find themselves in this kind of situation. This is when you need to know how to project your voice in such a way that your audience can hear you, but that doesn’t strain your vocal equipment. Here are some physical strategies you can try.
Fill your lungs
The way you breathe affects the way your voice comes out. After all, air flowing over your vocal cords is the reason you have a voice at all. If you breathe shallowly, you will quickly run out of air, and then your throat muscles tense up to try to squeeze the sound out. To whatever degree that happens, your voice will sound strained and lack carrying power. It’s hard on your vocal cords, too. But when you take the time to fill your lungs, it’s as if your voice is riding on a supportive cushion of air, and your throat muscles can stay relaxed. Your voice will carry better and have a richer, more pleasing sound.
Most people only fill the top part of their lungs when they breathe, but in fact, your lungs are larger at the bottom than at the top. To get a good breath, you need to fill your lungs all the way to the bottom. Ask any musician whose instrument uses air, and they will tell you that your waist and abdomen must move outward as you inhale, and back in as you exhale. Your chest stays quiet. If you’ve never done that before, try imagining that you are filling your lungs from the bottom up, as if it were water instead of air.
Articulate with energy
Most people (no offense, folks!) have rather lazy diction. They don’t use the tools of articulation – their jaw, lips and tongue – with enough energy to create clear, crisp consonants. You wouldn’t think, would you, that your articulation would have a bearing on how well your voice carries? But it does.
The more energy you put into your muscles of articulation, the more you lift your voice up away from your throat muscles and into the resonators in your face – specifically, your cheek bones and your sinus cavities. Even on such a small scale, your cheek bones act like the sounding board of a piano, and your sinus cavities (assuming you don’t have a cold) resonate like a big, open room. That means your voice will have more resonance and will project better to your listeners.
Think of how much energy it takes to run the length of a soccer field or basketball court. Clear articulation requires just as much energy; you’re simply using smaller muscles.
Think big, never push
Never try to “push” your voice to make it louder. You will probably become hoarse, and might even do damage to your vocal cords. Instead, imagine that the inside of your throat and mouth are large, as large as the room you’re speaking in. That will cause all the muscles around the inside of your throat to pull away, just as you do when you are yawning. The bigger the space inside, the bigger the voice outside.
More energy, please
All of these physical strategies bring me back to my familiar theme: it takes energy to speak well in public. You really do have to work harder than when you’re not in that situation. But when you remember that the speaking event is about making sure your listeners have the best possible experience, you know that it’s worth the extra energy. As the speaker, that’s your job.