Making Good Speakers Great

Voice Projection

Voice projection is an important speaking skill and the topic comes up frequently in my work. Your ability to be heard in meetings, in large rooms, or in noisy environments affects your credibility, as well as clarity. Your professional image is enhanced or diminished to the extent that you can fill a room and communicate your message clearly and successfully.

If you know you’re not projecting your voice effectively, what do you do? Most people just try to be louder. But there are real problems with that approach. It’s too much work. You end up pushing and straining. Your voice quickly fatigues, gets dry, scratchy and sore. You feel worn out and frustrated by the effort. And it just seems wrong, like you’re not being yourself. In the end, you feel like you’re shouting, but your listeners keep saying, “We can’t hear you in the back.”

Pushing your voice is counterproductive and actually limits its potential. Voice projection happens most effectively when you allow the right thing to happen, rather than force the right thing to happen. Here’s why.

Your voice is like a wind instrument. It needs a source of power (breath), a source of sound (your vocal folds), and a means of amplification (the bones and spaces of your body). When you try to project your voice by pushing harder, muscles contract, so breath flow is restricted and sound vibrations are dampened and diminished by tension. More work produces less sound. By contrast, if you relax and open up, breath flows generously. Sound vibrations flourish and travel further.

Here’s a strange analogy, but bear with me. If you’ve ever seen an old-fashioned toilet, you know it uses large pipes, a lot of water, but not much pressure. The flushing sound is easy and gentle. High volume, low pressure. Modern water-conserving toilets are the opposite. They use smaller pipes, little water, and there’s a whole lot of pressure involved. The flushing sound is forceful and aggressive. Low volume, high pressure.

Without taking the analogy too far, you want your voice to operate like an old-fashioned toilet: high volume, low pressure. If the pipe for breath and sound is large, airflow will be generous and there will be minimal pressure. Sound will be full and easy, and it will travel further because there are no obstacles. You’ll produce a lot of sound without the pressure of yelling.

Enhancing voice projection is not something you do just by trying harder. It’s a gradual process of identifying patterns of tension that inhibit your voice, then releasing that tension and cultivating openness. It involves learning to feel the power of your breath and using breath generously. It invites you to produce sound easily and efficiently, and to give away that sound without reservation. It will always feel good.

Projecting your voice is an act of relaxed confidence rather than forceful exertion. It requires you to be fully engaged and fully available. The moment you tense up or pull back, the moment you become self-conscious or unsure voice projection will suffer. As you get comfortable in your body, engage your whole voice, and connect to your message, you’ll communicate with natural authority and strength. Voice projection will be effortless, and you’ll speak with clarity, confidence and credibility.

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