Voice Tone Tips
How to Solve Issues with Voice Projection & Tone for Presenting
Breathing correctly for public speaking is like diving- you need to know how to come up for air and when to equalise, or there’s the risk of total combustion.
To get to the bottom of this dilemma, you first need to understand exactly how to project your voice and secure an optimal voice tone.
In my day-to-day work, assisting CEOs, executives and emerging leaders to cultivate the elite-level public speaking skills that make presentations striking, the topic of voice projection always comes up!
Voice projection is an essential tool for your professional and personal life. However, if you struggle to project your voice, know there are evidence-based strategies to target vocal projection.
In this post, I will give you 8 answers to the most frequently asked questions I receive about how to project your voice when presenting. So if you’re curious to learn the essential principles behind effective voice projection when presenting, you’ve come to the right place!
Correct voice techniques = petrol for your public speaking.
Voice Projection & Your Speaking Voice
If you’re struggling to breathe while talking, chances are you are also experiencing vocal comfort and volume concerns when presenting.
The first important step to understanding how to project your voice is to learn about the role of breathing in the voice projection process.
This blog is best digested in 3 steps. First, check the tips below, then stay tuned for a short video tutorial (coming soon).
You might want to bookmark this page to refer back to later – because it could take more than one sitting!
- Read the tactics below (below)
- Watch the breath support vlog (linked here)
- Sign up for my free Masterclass: How to Look and Feel more Confident at Work.
- If you like what you’ve learned, and want to gain more insights into your speaking, check out my best-selling High-Performance Communication Audit enrolments are currently open. This will allow you to have a total speaking assessment and meet with me for a strategy feedback session.
Correct voice projection is not just the product of breathing.
Vocal projection requires the effective coordination of your entire voice system.
What is volume?
When it comes to Voice Projection, volume is the outcome of how wide your vocal folds (voice muscles) vibrate when creating sound.
The larger the amplitude (width of the vocal fold movement), the more energy produced and the louder the sound will be.
When your voice vibrates wider, it causes an increase in pressure. We call this the sound pressure level (SPL).
If you’re worried that your voice is too quiet when presenting, voice projection strategies can assist you in increasing your sound pressure level healthily, so your voice is more acoustic.
Why is voice projection important for executive presence?
Executive presence and charisma are signalled through our interpersonal delivery. Voice volume is one important acoustic signifier that increases the perception of charisma for listeners.
Higher voice volume is positively associated with increased charisma ratings. (Rosenberg, 2009).
If you want to cue increased executive presence, you must have a good grip on voice projection.
Should I just get a microphone or megaphone instead of trying to project my voice?
Although healthy voice projection is an advanced skill that doesn’t always come naturally, I strongly recommend that all my clients master the ability to project the voice independently without relying on amplification gear.
You never know when you’ll get into a situation where you need to call to attention at high volume or worse still call out in distress. Voice projection is not only a great skill for public speaking and presenting, it’s a vital life skill you will definitely need if ever in danger.
What should my everyday speech volume look like?
The human voice is an amazing tool, and we have the capacity for a dynamic volume range.
Check some different volume levels below for ambient sounds alongside expected speech volumes.
- 10dB Normal breathing
- 20 dB Rustling leaves, a mosquito
- 30 dB Whisper
- 50-70 dB Everyday speech
- 70 dB Vacuum cleaner
- 80 dB City traffic noise
- 80-90 dB Shouting
- 103 dB Jet flyover
- 110 dB Jackhammer, Symphony Orchestra
- 125dB Opera singer, Sandblaster, Thunder
- 145dB Fireworks
Natural Voice Projection
When I undertake a voice assessment with my clients there are 3 core skills I’m looking for.
All healthy speaking voices should be able to:
- Produce a clean, clear sound
- Show pitch changes with ease for expressive effect
- Alter volume with ease to match ambient noise
If your voice is missing one of these 3 properties, it’s worthwhile dedicating some time to improve your voice skills.
Is voice projection just about volume and “being louder”?
The short answer is no!
Vocal projection requires the effective coordination of the entire voice system.
Volume is one part of acoustics. You’ll need some more skills to get pleasant carrying power and tone.
It’s all about knowing how to exploit your vocal anatomy healthily to get a projection advantage when presenting.
The 3 Sub-systems of Voice that determine your projection success
To understand more about voice projection, we need to get clear on how the voice works.
Healthy voice production engages 3 processes:
Respiration: breath powers the sound
Phonation: muscle vibration creates pitch, tone and volume
Resonance: the sound wave is filtered out of the body
If one of these sub-systems is not working optimally, it will skew the other systems and can lead to voice health issues.
Most people need to dedicate some training to learn how to calibrate their voice correctly.
If you’re struggling with voice volume, you’ll need to learn to coordinate respiration, phonation and resonance more effectively.
You can drastically improve how your voice sounds and achieve optimal tone if you work on science-based voice techniques that enhance your ability to make the most of voice physiology and practice to build up the neural pathways and muscle memory to secure optimal voice tone and it all comes down to coordinating these 3 subsystems of voice.
How to Project your Voice with Breath Support
Before we utter our first word, we need to take an active breath so that the body has adequate power to drive the voice.
Airflow from the lungs provides the power source for voice.
First, we inhale air into our lungs via our nose or mouth.
Then, the air moves through our voice (larynx and trachea) to our lungs.
Finally, as we exhale, the air is driven from our lungs through the trachea, which meets our closed vocal folds.
Before our first word, the airflow builds pressure underneath our vocal muscles, causing them to start the vibration process.
Without air, our voice would not be able to start vibration (the next step in the process), meaning no sound could be produced.
What’s the best breathing for voice projection when presenting?
For acoustic voice production, you need to safely increase the air pressure below the level of the voice muscle before releasing sound. Increasing the air pressure means the air will release with greater intensity, volume and carrying power.
An abdominal diaphragmatic breath is the best type of breath to increase the air stream pressure healthily. To get a clear and acoustic sound, you’ll also need to engage correctly with the other 2 systems (phonation and resonance), so keep reading to learn more!
How the Phonation System helps you Project your Voice
Once your breath is ready, the process moves to the next step- phonation.
The airflow from the lungs encounters closed vocal muscles. This causes a pressure build-up that blows the vocal folds apart, setting them into a vibratory cycle, creating a sound wave.
The vocal folds vibrate approximately 200-220 times per second for females and 100-120 times per second for males. It is at the vocal folds where the voice’s speaking pitch, volume and quality are determined.
Why does my throat feel so tight when speaking
The vocal folds need to close completely to build up sufficient pressure for speaking. We call this vocal fold closure.
Many people struggle to coordinate and correctly manage their breathing to start the vibration process.
If this is the case, the throat and neck muscles can start to incur increased tension, which is only further compounded by poor posture.
Although you can’t technically feel pain in the vocal fold muscles, you may experience increased tightness and discomfort in the region due to poor control and low voice skills.
Here are a few voice use errors that will definitely sabotage your vocal comfort, tone clarity and projection capacity:
- Breath holding: Many speakers struggle to engage their breath support correctly and instead hold and lock their breath. This can be incredibly uncomfortable because it will increase body tension, cause vocal strain and roughness and can leave you gasping audibly due to pressure imbalances.
- Air escape: Good breath support entails knowing how to use the air you take in so that you conserve it and have vocal stamina. Many untrained speakers inhale and release large quantities of air before releasing their first words. Not only will this audible breath escape reduce executive presence (it’s a negative speech noise for impression management that can make you sound stressed, less credible and anxious), it will also wreak havoc on healthy voice projection and your tone clarity.
- Insufficient vocal fold closure: If you don’t manage to coordinate the closure of the voice muscle after inhalation, the vocal muscles don’t receive the gust of air they need to vibrate without forcefully slamming themselves against each other (furthering wear and tear). Insufficient vocal fold closure is frequently a timing and coordination error that causes counter-productive habits such as squeezing or pushing from the throat to achieve loudness. Not only will your speech sound breathy and haphazard, but these muscular habits can also lead to vocal fatigue, strain, breathiness or even long term damage.
When the voice vibrates, the edges of the muscle contact each other – when you speak at a high volume, this contact pressure can cause increased swelling resulting in hoarseness if you don’t have a good grip on optimal phonation.
Why does my voice get rough and tired after presenting?
Projecting your voice for extended periods will incur wear and tear, especially if you have not optimised how you integrate the 3 voice subsystems.
When a female presents for 1 hour, her voice muscles will make firm contact at least 792,000 times.
To get a sense of the impact, try this!
Clap your hands 792,000 in an hour and tell me if they’re not fatigued or swollen.
When a male presents for 1 hour, his voice muscles will make firm contact at least 432,000 times.
Persistent voice use at high intensity is risky, especially if your system isn’t optimised.
All muscles will inflame and fatigue when subjected to higher pressure impacts- the voice included.
You must know how to warm up the vocal muscle with preparatory exercises that reduce inflammation risks, or you can experience long-term damage.
Healthy voice projection doesn’t just count on max volume.
Instead, the best speakers and performers use the power of resonance to filter their internal sound more efficiently into the room. Keep reading to learn more about resonance.
How Resonance Makes Voice Projection Easier & Healthier
The sound waves produced by the vocal folds journey upwards into the cavities above the larynx: the pharynx, oral cavity, and nasal passageways. These structures make up the vocal tract. Resonance is what amplifies the fundamental sound wave to reach its best potential.
How you valve the cavities will also determine how the sound is filtered into the room. Your resonance set-up will impact the nasality, timbre and tone of your voice and determine the total acoustic energy.
Fun fact: Opera singers don’t use microphones to project their voice in massive auditoriums and achieve mighty carrying power over the entire orchestra without strain or effort. This is possible because we’re trained to calibrate our voice system to function like a sonic boom using the power of resonance.
Elite presenters know how to harness the power of resonance to reduce the effort and workload on the vocal muscle. If you can capitalise on optimising your vocal resonance, you’ll be able to maintain a solid speaking schedule with less risk of vocal injury.
How can I get my voice to carry when I’m presenting?
If you want to get your voice to carry more effectively, you want to follow the principle of the megaphone.
Resonance tweaks allow you to set up the chambers of the back of the throat, mouth and nasal passageways to direct the sound forward, where it belongs, in the room!
Forward placement of your voice is what allows your voice to carry.
There are special manoeuvers you can put in place to get ultimate vocal carrying power, and the principles of physics then take over!
The voice is a tube.
All tubes will vibrate according to how you tune them.
You can tune your voice to filter sound more effectively by learning how to position the malleable elements of the vocal tract (the jaw, the tongue, the nasal cavity) and sync the valving with the vocal fold vibrations to increase spectral energy. This ability makes some voices, like the opera singer example earlier, incredibly acoustic.
Research indicates that speakers with increased resonance power are instantly more credible, entertaining and charismatic to listen to than speakers with low-grade resonance (Niehbuhr, 2018).
If you position your voice tone too far back in the mouth, the sound won’t carry. If you manage to achieve a forward resonance at the front of the face, you’ll get increased carrying power and better tone.
How you shape the cavities of the throat, mouth, and nose will influence the acoustic potential of your voice. This is why tongue position, jaw placement and mouth opening need to be optimised to get the internally produced sound into the room as efficiently as possible.
And, you might be in for more than a volume and speaking comfort advantage;
Males that use optimised forward resonance are more likely to receive investment capital than those that don’t (Niehbuhr, 2018).
Check if you’re breathing correctly
Place a hand on your belly.
As you breathe in through the nose or mouth, you should feel the lower abdominal area expand, not the chest cavity.
As you breathe out and use your air during speaking, you should notice the stomach move back towards your spine.
How do you breathe from your diaphragm?
As a speech pathologist, opera singer and voice therapist, I need to set the record straight. There’s no such thing as breathing from your diaphragm.
We don’t have voluntary control of diaphragm movements.
The correct term for optimal breathing for public speaking and voice projection is technically abdominal diaphragmatic breathing.
How nerves can sabotage your voice projection
Performance anxiety, public speaking nerves and general communication discomfort can completely sabotage your voice production.
If you think your voice projection and tone are deteriorating due to nerves, keep reading!
The first you want to do is understand what breathing impacts you’re experiencing.
I can assess this for you in a heartbeat through my High-Performance Communication Audit, which will identify precisely where your breath support breakdown occurs and what performance factors are triggering the disarray.
There are a plethora of issues that can undo your voice tone and voice projection in one fell swoop. It’s normal for many untrained speakers to show a mix of the following negative behaviours:
- Running out of air mid-sentence.
- Rough and breathy tone
- Heaving, panting and puffing before or after a phrase.
- Chest, voice or postural tightness
- Racing thoughts accompanied by visible respiratory movements.
- Postural and physical movements that reduce executive presence like excessive chest movement, shoulder elevation on inhalation, body bracing (to get more air in), excessively wide stance (due to inability to find the postural support system needed for projection)
- Vocal strain
- Volume trail off (due to inability to get the air flowing equally from the beginning to end of spoken phrases)
- Strident shouting that is throat based rather than acoustic, leading to vocal damage
Addressing the nerves, ironically, is not the solution to effective voice production when anxious- keep reading to find out why!
Do breathing exercises help your voice projection and tone if you have public speaking anxiety?
I hate to disappoint you, but breathing exercises alone will not be enough to assist you in managing the elite voice production needed to present effectively for your next summit, keynote or lecture.
There is no shortcut to acquiring the vocal skills you need to deliver optimal voice, so don’t let anyone waste your time with promises to change your voice with a set of breathing exercises. It simply won’t be enough.
The best approaches to voice improvement are research-based and involve addressing the vocal function, not mindset alone, needed to produce high-performance speaking.
If your voice is not working when presenting- managing performance anxiety is not the complete solution.
Elite vocal performers (opera singers, stage actors, world-class public speakers) experience performance anxiety, yet their tone and projection are 100% intact. What separates them is vocal skill.
If your voice is not working when nervous, you must learn how to calibrate it independently of your mood, emotions and environment.
You can only cinch vocal consistency across all environments and work on voice calibration techniques that increase your ability to coordinate the vocal sub systems.
This skill does not come naturally to everyone but can be acquired by training with an expert.
What’s the fastest way to increase my voice projection skills so I sound amazing when presenting?
If you’re considering working on the voice to improve your speaking skills, using a science-based approach is essential.
Voice production is a physiological process that counts on unique anatomical manoeuvres.
The best method to increase vocal consistency is an approach that combines neuro-motor learning, voice science and high-performance communication principles.
Before working with a voice coach or public speaking coach, do some recon to ensure they have the necessary expertise and qualifications to train the voice correctly.
At a minimum, your consultant should be a qualified speech and language pathologist with advanced expertise in Voice therapy. Vocal function is a medical process – you can get into many vocal health issues if you work with people who are not qualified to train voice medically.
At best, your executive speaking consultant should also have more insights into the nuances of vocal performance and extensive insight into the research behind executive presence, charisma and what speaking tactics correlate best with audience engagement.
A tailored and comprehensive audit into every aspect of your communication
With the HPC Audit, you will know precisely what you need to boost to break your professional communication barriers.
Assessment of your Voice Tone
This assessment will ensure that you are not sabotaging a good message with a poor sound.
Assessment of speech intonation and expression factors
I’ll audit your voice pitch, tone, word stress, and emphasis- critical factors needed for persuasive and interesting communication.
Optimise your Voice Projection & Tone, Boost Your Delivery & Express Yourself Better
You can improve your voice tone – it just takes practice techniques to optimise and clarify your sound, even when nervous. This is why I have built integrated six action-based lessons in an entire module dedicated to Voice Tone Optimisation in my signature communication program for emerging leaders. This course will equip you with the best voice tone, inflection & delivery faster than ever using principles from my opera performance background.
You can improve your word finding and speaking structure– it just takes a few formats to allow you to position your responses calmly without hesitations, anxiety, gaps or tangents. My C-Suite Communication program for emerging leaders dedicates an entire module devoted to logical flow so that you achieve more eloquence in core professional conversations.
You can improve your rapport building, conflict management and negotiation skills to develop stronger boundary protections and enhance social interactions. I have also created an entire system for actively training emotional intelligence that is not mindset based – because that’s not where the research is at. Instead, you’ll learn how to signal social intelligence intentionally every day with concrete communication tactics so that you can experience more success in your professional relationships to leverage career growth more rapidly.
- Colton, Raymond H., Leonard, Rebecca., & Casper, Janina K. (2011). Understanding voice problems: A physiological perspective for diagnosis and treatment (4th ed.). Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
About the Author
Sara Geiger is a Keynote Speaker, Executive Speaking Coach, and Opera Singer who likes to play with words, sounds, and your impact.
Her academic background is in Music Performance, Communication Science and Speech & Language Pathology. She’s currently completing a PhD in Opera Performance.
Connect with Sara on LinkedIn.
© Sara Geiger International
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