Making Good Speakers Great

Frequently Asked Questions

People can’t hear me in loud places. How do I get a stronger voice?

Don’t make the mistake of shouting and forcing your voice in those situations. First, make sure you’re using a lot of breath when you speak. Without pushing it, you should feel as though breath is pouring out of your mouth, carrying sound along with it. Second, you should emphasize sound vibrations in your face and skull. These sounds lend brightness, energy and projecting power to your voice. They’re not pretty, but they do tend to “cut through” competing noise, without requiring a lot of force.

I always feel out of breath when I speak. How do I increase my breath capacity?

You probably have the capacity you require; you just aren’t utilizing it effectively. I suggest paying attention to three things:

  1. Are you pausing frequently for in-breaths?
  2. Are you giving yourself enough time for each in-breath?
  3. Are your in-breaths deep enough?
Most people try to make one breath last way too long. When they do breathe, they take very quick breaths, resulting in very small breaths. With no power supporting their voice, they struggle to squeeze sound out of their body, becoming more and more tight, decreasing their capacity even more.

I want a deeper, more confident voice? How can I lower the pitch of my speaking voice?

I never recommend people focus on the pitch of their voice. After all, you need a whole range of pitches. It’s not necessarily pitch that needs to change; it’s usually resonance that needs attention. Most people use shallow breaths and hold tension in their tongue and throat. That cuts off the low resonance that comes from their torso. Learning to speak with your whole body will provide lots of depth in your voice, without having to force the pitch lower.

I don’t know how high or low I should be speaking. How do I find my optimal pitch?

In my opinion, this issue is given too much attention by instructors who have nothing better to teach, and you wouldn’t believe the crazy tricks I’ve heard for finding optimal pitch. There isn’t one specific pitch that is best for you. Yes, there is a range within which your voice will function most efficiently and effectively, but defining that range is not your first concern. The first step is to identify and release all the tensions that distort and inhibit your natural voice. Once that process is underway, you will be able to feel when your voice is vibrating most fully and easily, and you can forget about finding that one special pitch.

I sound like a little girl, and people don’t take me seriously. How can I sound my age?

Children’s voices are characterized by a lot of oral resonance. Their voice is mostly in their mouth. That’s why they sound like mice on steroids. Since women’s voices don’t shift so dramatically, at puberty, it’s easy to retain that small, high quality that sounds very young. Learning to breathe deeply and engage your whole body when speaking will naturally and easily produce power and resonance that listeners associate with strength, authority and credibility.

I love the sexy sound of low, gravelly voices. How do I get that voice?

Be careful what you wish for. A gravelly voice may be appealing at some level, but it’s often a sign of trouble—vocal trouble, I mean. A healthy voice will be clear and free of noise. Can your voice have depth? Absolutely. Will it be sexy? That depends. A good voice will accurately reveal your inner state of being. So if you’re sexy on the inside… you might get lucky. If you fake a low, gravelly voice, well, that will just be creepy.

I sound monotone when I speak. How can I make my voice more interesting?

You should never have to think about being expressive. It comes naturally from being connected to your self, your message and your listeners. The best way to start getting connected to your self is by breathing. I never have to teach people how to be more expressive. I just have to get them to breathe. When you breathe, you will be expressive. It’s that simple, and I’m still amazed every time it happens.

I speak too quickly. Is there any way for me to slow down?

By now you probably know that telling yourself to slow down works for about thirty seconds. I’ve noticed four things about fast talkers that suggest effective strategies for slowing the rate of your speech. If you speak too quickly you are probably holding tension in your jaw, using only a fraction of your voice, focusing too much on content and not breathing well. By contrast, breathing deeply, allowing your jaw to open more, engaging your full voice and focusing on your listeners will naturally slow the rate of your speech, without requiring you to consciously work at it.

I have an animated personality. If I speak slowly, won’t I sound boring?

It’s a common concern, but it rarely happens. Speed doesn’t make you interesting; it just makes you difficult to understand and your listeners tune out. Slowing the rate of your speech allows you to be more fully engaged, at every level, and enables listeners to process your message more easily. You will always have more impact if you take time to be deliberate.

People always ask me to repeat myself. How can I be clear the first time around?

In my experience, there are several common obstacles to clarity: speaking too softly, speaking too quickly, mumbling and the presence of an accent. Quite often, several small problems combine to create a much larger problem. I prefer to strengthen the voice and moderate the rate of speech before tackling pronunciation and accent. I usually find clarity improves dramatically with a strong voice and a slower rate, making the difficult work of speech and accent training unnecessary in many cases.

I get nervous when speaking in certain situations. How can I increase my confidence when speaking to others?

I believe confidence starts in your body. The person who is most comfortable, physically, is miles ahead of the competition. My four favourite strategies for managing nervous energy involve:

  • Breathing—has a direct positive affect on heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and stress hormones. 
  • Grounding—creates sensations of centeredness, settledness and solidity. 
  • Vocal resonance—reinforces feelings of strength and confidence.
  • Rehearsing—builds familiarity and a sense of mastery.

These techniques require time and practice, but they have repeatedly proven to be effective for those making the investment.

Should I do a warm-up before giving a presentation? What should that include?

Speaking is a physical activity. No athlete would dream of competing without first warming up. The same principle applies to your voice. Warming up for 20-30 minutes will enable you to perform at a level you could never attain, starting out cold. The specific exercises you use aren’t particularly important, but an effective warm-up will always address physical relaxation, generosity of breath and cultivation of sound vibrations throughout your body.

My voice tires easily. What can I do about that?

You’re probably forcing your voice, in some way. The muscles associated with your voice are not big, strong muscles with a lot of endurance, so they don’t perform well under a lot of pressure. Speaking with a strong voice for longer periods of time is a balancing act. You must learn to manage breath, space and resonance to produce the maximum amount of sound with a minimum amount of effort. Think of a bell. If you swing it too hard, you won’t get the best ring. Getting a feel for the bell’s own rhythm enables you to work with that rhythm, coaxing out the maximum amount of sound. Working with vocal stamina is very much like that.

I want to develop the full potential of my voice. How many lessons will I need?

Voice training is much like playing an instrument or mastering a sport—you can learn the basics in a finite period of time, but becoming really good is a gradual process involving ongoing practice. I ask clients to commit to a minimum of four sessions. In that time, you can build a basic technique that continues to be of benefit if you keep up the practice. Training for three months or longer produces even more transformation and prepares you to perform at a much higher level. Some clients continue training for a year or even longer due to the high value they receive, personally and professionally.

What is the best approach for training my voice?

There are several prominent methods of voice training, often named for the people who developed them: Lessac, Linklater, Berry and Hart are just a few. Ultimately, any legitimate approach to voice training will have to address three critical elements: physical relaxation and expansiveness, breathing technique, and resonance. The guiding principle is economy of effort. The end result should be a voice that is clear, resonant, expressive and effective. Any approach promising a great voice in a matter of days is a money grab.

Where do I look for a voice coach?

You can find reliable voice trainers within a number of professions, all of them bringing slightly different perspectives and strengths to the process. Many singing teachers are able to translate their expertise in a way that relates to the speaking voice. Obviously, speech therapists bring a high level of training to the process, not to mention certification. There is a decades-old tradition of voice and speech training in the theatre, so these professionals also have a lot to offer. I often refer inquiries to the Voice And Speech Trainers Association (VASTA) at, where one can search the professional directory by location, and find detailed information on each instructor’s background and approach.


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