Tip #2

Public Speaking Basics: Volume Matters

Joy describes how to project your voice more effectively and consistently.

The human voice is a tool, a marvelous one, if you use it properly.  For those willing to explore, the voice can lift the human spirit to great heights, but for those who ignore its potential, they get the job done, but no Academy Award.

If you want to develop your voice as a public speaker, there are five things to note.  The first is volume.  For most beginners, the main problem is projecting loud enough for people in the back of a room to hear.  In order to do this, remember to breathe properly. First, sit or stand up straight; second, fill your lungs fully with air, and third, push the air out with your diaphragm.

In order to fill your lungs fully, you need to take belly breaths.  Your tummy should rise every time you inhale.  If your chest is rising instead and you’re pulling in your stomach, it means you’re only filling your lungs partially.  When you don’t have enough air in your lungs, you’ll have a tendency to use your throat muscles when you exhale.  Then, at the end of a few minutes of raising your volume, you will have stiff throat muscles.  How many times have you gone to a football game, yelled a few times, and sounded like a frog afterwards?  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Use your diaphragm.  Take a look at this diagram.  This red area under your lungs is your diaphragm.  Let me repeat.  Sit or stand up straight.  Fill your lungs fully, then push the air out with this muscle.  Learn how to use your diaphragm and you will develop a more powerful, resonant vocal quality.

By the way, if you’re in the habit of slouching, you won’t develop to your fullest potential.  For one thing, you won’t be able to fill your lungs fully, and second, it will be harder for you to use your diaphragm.

The second major problem with volume is your level.  You don’t want to be barely audible, but you also don’t want to blast people out of their seats.  The best solution is sound checks.  If you have a microphone, you will test your equipment and adjust the level, but, even if you don’t have one, you should conduct some sort of test.  Before you begin, look at the person who is farthest away from you and say hello or some sort of greeting.  In the Hawaii Speech League, we say “judges, are you ready?”  This makes everyone look up, and this attentive look from the back row is what our speakers check before they begin.  Say whatever is appropriate in your situation.

The third most common problem with volume is keeping it consistent.  Many beginners start off their sentences very well then taper off to lower levels.  If you see the people in the back row leaning forward or losing interest, the cause could be you running out of breath or just being careless about your volume at the end of your lines.  Learn to be more mindful of the needs of your audience.

Please note that for those of you who come from a family or culture that discourages people from speaking loudly, you have to retrain yourself.  You’ve been taught that loud people are obnoxious.  No one wants to be considered a loudmouth.  That’s why you tend to be in the soft-spoken.  Change your mindset.  It’s perfectly okay to have a clear, dynamic energy in your voice.  You just need to learn when to use it.  Otherwise, you will be considered a loudmouth.

My final point is a fine one.  If you want to use a stage whisper, remember that it should be executed in a suggestive way, not a literal one.  You still need to project your voice.  You just need to add the right body language, bring your volume down a tad, and add a little force to the way you exhale.  Okay?

Give these tips a try, and practice until you have formed solid habits.   It’s not a habit if you revert to your old ways.  It takes mindful practice to sharpen your skills, but, once you do, your voice will be a marvelous tool.

Last modified: July 2, 2020
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