How to Project Your Voice

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.

24 comments to How to Project Your Voice

  • […] There are plenty of tips available on how to deepen your voice. Take care that you don’t strain your vocal cords, but   improvements in your breathing technique can make a big difference. There are some good simple techniques in Tips on Talking. […]

  • hi my names loretta,and i would love to be able to project my voice,i know i lack confidence full stop.but my main aim is to be able to project my voice not only in my personal life but to improve my ocal chords and so improve my confidence both in speaking ,but also in singing at a non professional level.have i left it too late being in the senior racket. i am a shallow breather and need to explore breathing techniques.ok y-thats it for now ..

  • Hi Loretta. Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it’s too late. I coached a 70-year-old woman who thought she couldn’t sing, and now she’s singing. I suggest you work with a vocal coach or singing teacher to help you learn good breathing and voice production techniques. Good luck with it!

  • Hi,
    I’m a coach at my local Boxing Club; music’s loud & the sound of glove on bag is even louder! Have you any advice for this nutter who stands at the front, barking encouragement & getting a sore throat every Monday and Thursday evening?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Hi Pat. No wonder you get a sore throat! What you’re doing on Mondays and Thursdays is not projecting your voice. It’s yelling over noise. One of the primary rules of voice care is “Don’t raise your voice.” But you don’t have much choice, do you?

    I would suggest intentionally keeping your throat as relaxed and open as possible. Imagine that the inside of your throat and mouth are as large as the room you’re in, as if the walls and ceiling of your throat and mouth go all the way out to the boundaries of the room. For some reason, creating a bigger space inside makes for a louder sound outside. Another strategy is to articulate very clearly, using your lips and tongue very energetically. Pretend that everybody in the room is lip reading, but they’re not very good at it, so you have to really emphasize the vowels and consonants. Very clear articulation tends to give the voice more penetration into the room.

    My strongest suggestion would be for you to wear a head microphone – the kind aerobics trainers use. If you look at the video clip on my website, http://www.skilltime.ca, you will see that I’m wearing a head mic. It wasn’t a huge number of people in the workshop, but I knew there would be small groups of people all over the room, all talking. To protect my voice and to be heard over the din, I wore a microphone.

    Good luck!

  • Nick

    Hi Heather,

    I am a very soft spoken person. My voice just doesn’t project and it affects me in many areas. I have been a teacher, guidance counselor, a coach, an in-house suspension teacher and it has affected me in each of these jobs. I am stil able to earn respect but I feel a louder voice would make my life much easier. While coaching, I can barely be heard from the sideline. In the classroom, I can’t talk over my students and when I have to present I pretty much need a mic not to mention I have extreme anxiety presenting. Any tips other than the previously mentioned?

  • Hi Nick,
    I can understand that your soft voice would contribute to your anxiety, but I also wonder if the anxiety is contributing to the softness of your voice. Some years ago, a man with the same problem took one of my workshops. He demonstrated that he was physically capable of greater volume, and all day I tried different strategies to help him, but at the end of the day, nothing had changed. It was as if something inside him refused to allow him to speak up. I finally had to admit that I’m a trainer, not a therapist, and I couldn’t help him with this difficulty.

    Without having heard you in person, here are some things I can suggest: 1) check with a throat specialist to see if there is a physiological reason for your soft voice, 2) work with a singing teacher, voice coach or speech therapist to see if you’re producing your voice incorrectly and can learn to change that, and finally 3) consult with a psychologist or psychotherapist to see if there are psychological reasons you’re unaware of that may be preventing you from speaking in a normal volume.

    You have my best wishes for success. I hope you find something that works for you.

  • NICK

    Hi Heather,

    Thanks for your imput. I may have been overstating my problems, however they do exist. My anxiety comes from public speaking and speaking in large groups. However, if I am in a classroom or coaching I am comfortable and the projection issue still exists. I probably just speak in a lower tone then most and I never really gave any thought to researching whether it was fixable but it’s probably here to stay. My anxiety is a bigger issue that I’ve lived with my entire life, and I am confident it is separate form this.

    Thanks
    Nick

  • Hi Nick,
    If you assume that your soft voice is here to stay, then of course, you’re right. It will be. I can certainly relate to the anxiety you experience when speaking to groups, because that’s exactly what I used to feel, myself. I invite you to read “Love as a Presentation Skill” http://www.tipsontalking.com/2010/02/love-as-a-presentation-skill/. It might give you a different perspective.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Heather,

    I have a very soft feminine voice, and when I am out with friends for a meal or a drink and the room is noisy, people just can’t hear me and it is difficult to join into the jovial conversation.

    I am not shy or nervous about talking, just have a very soft voice. It is the festive season now and I want to join in the fun!

    Cheers, Elizabeth

  • Heather Stubbs

    Hi Elizabeth,
    It’s very difficult, isn’t it, trying to be heard in noisy rooms. It’s particularly hard for people like you with naturally soft voices. I fail to understand why so-called “background” music so often has to be so loud. I know you can’t always ask to have the music turned down, so try being sure you take a deep breath before you speak so you always have a good cushion of air to speak with. Also, use the muscles of your lips and cheeks more animatedly than you normally would. This will help to bring your voice up out of your throat and into the resonators of your face, making it more focused so it will carry better. For some reason, exaggerating one’s diction helps the voice project better.
    Good luck!
    Heather

  • […] How to project your voice, on the blog Tips for Talking. […]

  • Clarissa

    Hi Heather,
    My names Clarissa. Im 20 yrs old and I am having trouble projecting my voice. Ima Front Desk Clerk and I have a very soft voice. Almost the baby voice of the bunch. HA! I need help to prject my vioce so that my guest will hear me. HELP !

  • Hi Clarissa,
    Without hearing you in person, I can’t give you any specific training for your voice. Perhaps you can find a voice coach or singing teacher who can help you relax your throat and fill out your voice.

    Here are a few things that will enable people to hear you better, regardless of what happens with your voice. 1. Always make sure you have enough air in your lungs to support your voice. Intentionally take a full breath before you start to speak and when you pause to breathe. 2. Articulate consonants extra clearly and with lots of energy. Not only does this make your words more understandable, it brings your voice forward to the front of your face, where it has more focus and penetration. 3. Look directly at the people you’re speaking to. We all lip-read to a greater extent than we realize, so make sure your listeners can see your mouth. Use your mouth with energy to articulate clearly, and people will be able to “see” what you are saying more easily. I hope that helps.

  • Pat

    Hi, I am taking a course to be a therapeutic riding instructor and need to have a larger voice than I have. I have to teach in an indoor arena and my voice doesn’t seem to carry very well. My voice is naturally soft or low. I sometimes have to teach outside as well and on a windy day my voice just gets carried away. Do you have any suggestions?

  • I suggest you work with a singing teacher or voice coach. This person will help you always to work with a full “tank” of air, to relax and open your throat and try to feel as if the inside of your mouth and throat is a huge space, and to ramp up your diction to the point where you feel as if it’s ridiculous. (It’s not ridiculous, it’s just clear, especially needed in the conditions you describe.) However, I think some people are just born with a soft voice. That’s what they got. Is there any chance you can use amplification?

  • jhonny

    Hello. I work at a harbor as a traffic controller. The problem is my voice. It is not clear enough mostly low..like some thing is blocking the voice. Before i speak i have to clear my throat which is annoying.
    I am using homey. Do you have any other advice. My voice is my JOB

    Regards.
    Jhonny

  • Dear Jhonny,
    It sounds to me like you should consult a doctor or a qualified voice therapist. I hope you find some help. Best regards.

  • Jenna

    Hi Heather, my name’s Jenna and I’m about to start my drama gsce at my school. I need to be able to project my voice across a room of around 100 people but I have a really quiet voice and I get prone to stage fright which makes my voice rather shaky and hard to understand. Next to this I am also starting my music gsce where I will be performing difficult songs and also musical theatre numbers. My concern about this is that I have asthma and I sometimes run out of breath before I can even finish the song. Do you have any tips on how I could 1) project my voice and make it less shaky and 2) any good breathing techniques on how I can last the entire song?

  • Hi Jenna, You have certainly given yourself some challenges with your choice of courses! I strongly advise you to focus on correct breathing technique. First, check with your doctor to make sure your asthma is under control. Ask the vocal instructor for your music course to show you correct diaphragm breathing. If s/he can’t help you, find a yoga or pilates instructor – it’s all the same way of breathing. As your course progresses, you’ll probably find yourself gaining confidence and starting to enjoy yourself more. That should help with the shaky voice. Here are a couple of articles that may be useful: The Caring-Confidence Connection and Five Remedies for a Shaky Voice. Be sure you spend time before your classes warming up your voice. Ask your drama and music teachers for vocal warm-up exercises. When you are learning the songs, work with your vocal teacher to build in places where you can take a breath, and learn those breathing places as part of the song.

    I suspect your drama and music courses will be excellent growth experiences for you. Keep them in that perspective, and don’t take them TOO seriously. Getting all worried about them will only increase your challenges. (Yes, I know, that’s easy for me to say!) Practice good breathing technique and then let yourself relax, enjoy the music and drama, enjoy interacting with your classmates and just have fun.

  • Komal

    I am into the voice business for many years but as the years have passed i find my voice to be more stained than ever and i have also developed sinus problem . i am doing a job where voice over is done on daily basis 8-4 and since i am one the most experienced one they expect me to do the key things like documentary voice commercials prompts . i get easily tired and more saliva comes into my mouth now affecting my clarity of speech . also i need some tips to train people under and around me .
    thanks

  • Komal, it sounds to me as if your vocal cords are suffering from overwork. The human body is not a machine and prolonged overwork can cause damage. I recommend that you consult a doctor, preferably an ear, nose and throat specialist. Also, if you can find a voice therapist (there may be one affiliated with a hospital) he or she may be able to help you adjust the way you use your voice to cause less strain.

  • Liv

    Hi Heather! I’m very glad I stumbled across this site. I feel better as it seems a lot of people share my “condition”. I am a shy female and to make matters worse, very soft-spoken. In my new job, I am expected to lead discussions with groups of 5+ in a meeting room, PLUS with others dialing in via conference call. My first meeting is this coming Monday and I am very stressed over it. I have a few concerns:

    1) I have trouble articulating words, even when I’m calm. For example, I often make slips when reading aloud (e.g., “This car is red” comes out as “This car is rad”. When I try again, it might come out as, “This cal is red”). I don’t know why this happens. Doesn’t happen all the time, just often enough, an this is very frustrating and gives me anxiety.

    2) There are no aids (e.g., microphones) available so if I try projecting and people still ask me to speak up, I don’t know how things will go if I just can’t throw my voice any further! How embarrassing!

    3) Something curious I noticed – often times, after eating or drinking, my voice tends to squeak and crack and be at a MUCH higher pitch when it comes out. The feeling is I inhaled too much air and the air is causing me to be unable to project my voice even when talking to someone standing right next to me. I usually have to wait until the next day. It’s almost as if sleeping resets my voice. Not sure why this happens or how to fix it. I get anxiety thinking about this problem suddenly occurring during an important event (meeting, phone conversation, presentation, etc.). Any ideas?

    Thanks!

  • Hi Liv,
    I’m neither a doctor nor a therapist, but points 1 and 3 make me wonder if there’s more to your challenges than immediately meet the eye. Have you discussed the situation with your doctor? She/he might be able to refer you to a voice or speech therapist who might be able to help. I get the impression you’ve been struggling along with this on your own, and I think it’s time you started asking questions of professionals. Especially since your voice and speech issues affect your new job.

    That doesn’t help much for this Monday, though. Bear in mind that the more stressed out you feel, the more likely you are to have problems. Do anything you can to reduce the stress. Most importantly, try to get your focus OFF worrying about yourself and ON making sure the participants in the discussion group have as good an experience as possible. Keep reminding yourself that the discussion is about THEM, not about you. In fact, can you try to let them do most of the talking? No matter what happens, you WILL survive this. Your listeners are not nearly as critical as you fear they are.

    Make sure you give yourself lots of time to take deep breaths. A breath doesn’t take as long as you feel it does, and your audience doesn’t mind waiting while you breathe. Honest! Pausing to take a breath will give your brain oxygen to think clearly, and your voice air to make sound. For point #2, be sure to articulate very, very clearly. That will help your voice project. If the problem with words coming out wrongly occurs, try taking a deep breath and speaking more slowly. When you keep trying to say the words again, you might be just digging a neural rut in your brain. Have you ever tried not repeating the exact words, but saying it in another way with different words?

    I wish you all the best, Liv, and encourage you to get face-to-face help from a professional.

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