How To Be Heard Effortlessly
20 December 2023
There are some people who can walk into a room and effortlessly carry their voices. This is called ‘projection’ and is due to a power in the voice that doesn’t rely on volume or shouting – to have impact. Many people think this is something someone naturally possesses, like having ‘presence’: unattainable for us mere mortals. However, projection can be achieved by looking at how you stand, breathe, speak and perform, all key factors in good public-speaking and presentation skills.
Here are seven tips to help you increase your own vocal power so you can command attention and be heard.
Tip One – Watch your posture:
Since you need your lungs to breathe, they’ll be quite limited in how much they can expand if you’re standing like a figure ‘C’, all hunched up. Being at a laptop also encourages that and pushes the shoulders up or forward, straining your breathing space and not giving you the physical potential to project.
Stand up straight with your feet firmly planted on the ground, shoulders low and wide. Imagine your spine stretching from the tailbone to the neck, this gives your voice more potential and capability.
Tip Two – Open your mouth:
Most people simply don’t open their mouths enough and this worsens when nerves kick in as the muscles around the jaw tighten. Consequently, it’s like speaking through a jammed door, causing mumbling or a lack of projection.. In my communications skills workshops, people often feel it’s really unnatural to open their mouths more, so I ask them to deliberately exaggerate their speech mannerisms. When I play it back to them, they’re surprised to see they don’t look like a speaking goldfish after all.
As they watch themselves back, not only do they realise they sound more interesting, but they look more expressive: both discoveries more likely to maintain the habit of opening the jaw more.
Film yourself speaking a line or two and check that you’re opening your mouth. Change how you do it, alternating between exaggerating sounds, then doing annunciating ‘normally’. You’ll find you’ll reach a new normal which won’t give you lockjaw but will make you look and sound more expressive as well as being heard with greater ease.
Tip Three – Breathe from your centre:
Breathe from the abdomen and imagine a beam of light from there, channelling out of your torso, throat and mouth and ‘zapping your audience’!
The breath doesn’t generate in the upper chest but lower down in the ‘engine room’ around the belly. Your voice will drop, sounding more resonant if you breathe from here, because you are giving it foundation, depth and impetus, like turning up the treble and bass on an amplifier so your music doesn’t sound ‘tinny’.
Tip Four – Look at the audience, not your notes:
It’s amazing how many times I see people either looking towards their notes, or at the slides. If you look towards your audience when you’re speaking, you’ll have a greater chance of being heard. Eye contact engages people too as they’re more likely to connect with your personality. Your content will feel more natural and authoritative, not practiced and robotic.
Here’s how to use notes to guide you, not trap you.
Tip Five – Visualise being in a stadium:
Simply imagining you’re speaking in a vast stadium can help you increase your volume. This gives you a sense of filling the space, preventing you from mumbling.
Tip Six – Avoid ‘dribbling’:
‘Dribbling’ is where the presenter loses volume at the end of a phrase. Here’s what it sounds like: I dribble so badly here, I need a bib.
Audiences often get tired of listening to speakers who ‘drop off’ at the end of the sentence. There are several physiological and psychological reasons why this may happen but ultimately it makes hard work for the listener, especially as the vital parts of information can be at the end of a phrase. It can also be a sign that the presenter is just reading a practiced script (even in their head rather than off notes) or is nervously rushing through a talk, just to get to the end quicker.
One of the most common reasons is that the speaker simply runs out of breath. So paying heed to Tip Three will decrease the dribbling.
Keep your vocal strength up to the end of the sentence and be consistent with your phrasing. To avoid trailing off, think of pressing on the final syllable of the final word of the sentence or phrase.
Tip Seven – Use pauses to refuel:
Less is more, and that applies particularly to pauses in a speech. A pause can seem like an uncomfortably long silence to the speaker, but to the listener they’re absolutely vital as a means to absorb and assimilate information. They’re also key to applying emphasis. In terms of projection though, without pauses, the speaker has no time to reach into their abdomen to breathe.
How to practice projecting your voice
There you have seven immediate ways to be heard without yelling.
Focus on just one of those pointers the next time you have a conversation, present or speak at a meeting.
When you speak to a colleague on the phone, you’re going to concentrate on ensuring you’re breathing from the centre.
One technique at a time and then they’ll all fall into place together.
- Pick one of the seven techniques to use this week.
- Apply it to a conversation either in a one-to-one or in a group
- Repeat throughout the week.
Eventually, you’ll hardly have to think about this as it’ll become second nature. Speak so people want to listen and can’t help but do so.
This article was originally published in December 2014 and was rewritten in Dec 2023.