In front of our building is a crosswalk, with flashing yellow lights and a jolly crossing guard who toots his whistle to stop the traffic and has a friendly word for everyone crossing the street. Or maybe I should say a friendly shout, because this guy is loud. Sometimes I can hear him talking to people from inside the building.
Now having a loud voice might be useful at times, if you’re a crossing guard for example, but speaking with a voice that’s always loud is probably not helpful in your personal and professional life.
Obviously, being too loud tends to disturb and annoy people around you, but furthermore, they can form the wrong conclusions about you. They might assume you’re angry, seeking attention or just ill mannered when actually you’re not.
What causes your voice to be too loud? Sometimes the obvious explanation is correct. There’s just too much energy involved. You’re working harder than necessary to produce the sound. It might feel like your baseline, but for the average listener, you’re raising your voice. That issue, too much volume, isn’t as common as you might think.
More often, it’s not the actual volume of your voice that causes the problem; it’s the tone of your voice that creates an impression of loudness. When one aspect of your voice becomes exaggerated it leaps out at the listener and seems loud. Nasality would be one example of this issue. Notice I wasn’t raising my voice but it sounded loud.
If you habitually speak too loudly, people probably admonish you to dial it down or use your indoor voice. You know from experience that doesn’t work. As soon as you think about something else you’re back to your usual loud voice. Based on those two causes of loud speech I can suggest two strategies for real lasting improvement.
Practice producing sounds with no more effort than you’d use for a sigh of relief. “Hey” “Hoe” You’re not pushing; you’re allowing sound to come out. Try short phrases, then reading, with the same feeling. Record your practice and listen to the result. What might feel too laid-back, at first, probably sounds about right for your listeners.
Practice speaking with your whole body, not just your throat and your mouth. Look for the feeling of sound vibrations in your skull, your chest and back. Cultivating resonance in your body will help balance the tone of your voice so it’s not so edgy and piercing.
We’re all different, and some people have voices that are bigger than others, but all of us are capable of a whole range of possibilities from quiet to loud and everything in between. The goal is for you to be in charge, not your habits, to be flexible, not stuck at high volume.
Learning to speak with a sense of ease and with a full resonant tone will help you speak at the appropriate volume in a way that’s engaging for your listeners, while feeling natural and authentic for you.
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