I have a quiet voice and it gets strained in loud environments, so there have been many times in my past where I’ve felt like the group can’t hear what I have to say.
I would have something witty, or interesting to contribute, but my voice wouldn’t carry enough volume to be heard. Other times it felt as though there was never a break in the conversation for me to interject my thoughts. Sometimes people would even talk over what I was saying when I would speak. Or they would ask me to repeat myself 2-3 times before finally acknowledging what I had said. Needless to say, this was disheartening and made socializing feel like a pain.
After feeling left out, I began to research how to make myself heard, and I’m happy to say I found some great tips that I have tried out in real life, and they have improved my social interactions immensely.
Here’s how to speak louder:
1. Address underlying nervousness
Ever noticed how, when you feel anxious around strangers, your voice gets softer? (And it only gets worse when someone says, “Speak up!” or worse, “Why are you so quiet?”)
This is our subconscious trying to help out:
Our brain picks up on nervosity -> Assumes we might be in danger -> Makes us take up less space to minimize the risk of danger.
The only way to fight our subconscious is to bring it up to a conscious level. So what helped me was to tell myself: “I’m nervous, so my voice will be softer. I’m going to CONSCIOUSLY speak with a louder voice even though my body is telling me not to.” A therapist can also help you overcome and address underlying nervousness.
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Nervosity is a big topic. I recommend you to read my guide How to Not Get Nervous Talking to People.
2. Use your diaphragm
If your voice doesn’t carry, try what actors do – PROJECT. To project your voice you need to speak from your diaphragm. To really understand where you should be speaking from, let’s visually picture where, and what your diaphragm is.
The diaphragm is a thin muscle that sits at the bottom of your chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. You can think of it as a vacuum, sucking air into your lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes as the air is pushed out of your lungs.
Now close your eyes and imagine exactly where your diaphragm is. Place your hand below your chest, and above your abdomen. Yep. RIGHT there. That is exactly where you should be speaking from to have a louder voice.
3. Moderate the volume to not sound obnoxious
I wondered how I could project my soft voice without turning into one of those loudmouths I’ve always been annoyed by. The secret is to not over-do. Just because I tell you to project your voice doesn’t mean that I want you to speak your loudest all the time.
Our goal here is to be loud enough to be heard, but not louder.
When you practice speaking from your abdomen, try doing it at different volumes, so you can match what’s suitable for the situation.
4. Practice deep breathing
There are many ways to practice speaking louder. Often times, actors will partake in breathing exercises as this strengthens their diaphragm, and allows their voice to project loudly and really fill the theater up.
In fact, I have an exercise that I use to make my diaphragm stronger. This is an exercise you can do right now:
Take a deep breath. Imagine filling your entire stomach. Don’t stop breathing in until you feel completely full- Now, hold your breath inside. Count to 4 or 5, whichever is more comfortable for you. Now you can slowly release. As you breathe out, imagine the air is coming directly from your belly button. This will put you in the habit of practicing talking from an “expansive area” as voice coaches call it.
5. Use your voice in new ways
When you have some alone time, play around with your voice. You may feel a little silly, but these types of exercises are exactly how actors, public speakers, and speech therapists practice making their voices louder, and stronger.
The next time you have some alone time, sing the ABC’s. As you sing, try to increase in volume. As you get louder, practice going up and down octaves. Don’t be afraid to be silly, you are alone after all.
Disclaimer: This isn’t easy. People spend their entire careers on vocal development. Think of your voice as an instrument. You have to practice to see improvements.
6. Explore your voice
If you have time, and really want to focus on exploring your own voice, watch this Ted Talk. It’s less than 20 minutes long and incredibly helpful for those of us who want to improve our voices.
In this Ted Talk you will learn:
- How to make your voice sound FULL
- What makes someone vocally aware
- Positive vocal habits to engage in
7. Open up your body and breath
Now that we’ve gone over ways to train your voice in speaking louder, it’s time to focus on actually speaking up during your conversation.
It’s good to regularly practice with the exercises I’ve talked about so far. But you also need to think about your volume during your conversations so you can immediately feel better about your social interactions.
While you are having a conversation, try the following for automatic results.
- Hold an upright posture (This opens up the airways)
- Open your throat, imagine speaking from your belly
- Avoid shallow breaths (Breath down through your belly instead)
- Pronounce words with emphasis
Use these tips for immediate changes along with repeating breathing exercises, and playing around with your voice will result in long term change in the way you speak.
8. Lower your pitch slightly
If you’re like me, you’ll automatically get more high-pitched when you try to speak louder. You can counteract that by bringing down your pitch consciously. Too much, and it will sound odd, but try recording yourself and hear what different pitches sound like. As you know, the voice always sounds darker to you than it really is.
On top of that, a lower-pitched voice has another benefit: People tend to pay more attention to someone with a slightly lower-pitched voice.
9. Speak slower
Because my voice was too quiet for group conversations, I developed a bad habit of speaking too fast. It was as if I tried to say whatever I wanted to say before someone would come in and interrupt me.
Ironically, we tend to listen less to people who speak too fast.
Instead, take your time. It’s not about speaking as slow as you can. That will just come off as sleepy and low energy. But dare to add pauses and changing your pacing.
I learned a lot from paying attention to how socially savvy friends talked. Analyze people who are good at telling stories, and notice how they don’t stress to get out what they are trying to say!
10. Use a signal that you’re about to talk
How do you enter an ongoing group conversation if you have a quiet voice? You know that you’re not supposed to interrupt, so you wait for whoever talks to finish, and then, just as you’re about to say your thing, someone else starts talking.
The game-changer for me was using a subconscious signal. Just before I’m about to start talking, I raise my hand so that people react to the movement. At the same time, I breathe (The type of breath we take just before we’re about to start talking) loud enough for people to notice.
This is magic for someone with a naturally quiet voice: Everyone knows that you’re about to say something, and the risk is lower that someone will speak over you.
These are some frames from an actual dinner I hosted a while back. See how everyone looks at the guy in the red t-shirt on frame 1 who’s just done talking. In frame 2, I raised my hand and breathed in, which turned everyone’s heads toward me. In frame 3, you see how I have everyone’s attention as I start talking.
Here’s my full guide on how to join a group conversation.
11. Make eye contact with the right person
I was puzzled that sometimes when I talked, people talked right over me. It was like they didn’t even hear me. After a while, I realized my mistake: I looked away while taking, instead of looking the listeners in their eyes.
Here’s a trick to make sure that people listen to you: Make eye contact with the person you feel has the most influence over the group. That way, you’re subconsciously signaling that you are part of the conversation (even if you don’t say anything and even if you have a quiet voice).
By making eye contact with the most influential person, you are making yourself present in the group.
Whenever you’re talking, keep eye contact with the influential person and other listeners. Keeping eye contact like this “locks” people into your conversation and it’s harder to blatantly speak over you.
12. Acknowledge the ongoing conversation
One way to insert yourself into the conversation is to go along with what is already being said. I make sure to comment on something that has already been a topic of interest. This takes the pressure off to say something extremely meaningful or interesting. And also, the group is more likely to listen to you, even if you have a quiet voice.
You can simply comment, or agree with what’s already happening. We all need to feel validated, so it’s likely you will be received well if you positively reinforce what is already being said. Once you use the power of positive reinforcement you become part of the conversation. At this point, where you already have their attention, you can speak your mind in a more opinionated way.
So here’s how I enter a group conversation to make sure that people listen:
“Liza, you mentioned before that whales are not risking extinction any more, that’s so good to hear! Do you know if that’s the case for the blue whale, too?”
Entering a conversation in this agreeing, acknowledging, probing way helps you make yourself heard, even if your voice is quiet.
13. Visualize yourself as someone people listen to
The most intimidating conversations happen when we view ourselves as an outsider to the social group we are with. It may be partly true, perhaps we are at a social gathering and only know 1-2 people. But it is a HUGE mistake to view yourself as an outsider to the conversation. Rather, think of yourself as NEW.
It took me a long time to realize almost everyone experiences a nervousness of sorts when interacting with new people. Those that come across confidently have often “faked it” until they made it.
A key component in “faking it” is to visualize yourself as part of the conversation.
If you have the mindset that you don’t belong, you will externally communicate that through your body language, so even when you DO work up the nerve to say something, people aren’t going to pay attention because it seems like you don’t want to be part of the conversation.
Instead of writing yourself off, replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you commonly think to yourself, “Why am I here, no one cares who I am or what I have to say.” Think like this instead, “I don’t know many people here, yet, but I will after the night is done.”
Put a positive, but realistic twist on your expectations for the evening. You’ll be surprised how this affects your conversations.
On your way to your next social interaction, visualize yourself as vividly as you can as a socially savvy, popular person who can make yourself heard.
14. Move to the middle of the group
Because I have a naturally quiet voice, it used to feel the safest to be on the outskirt of the group, but that’s the last place to be heard.
Even if you are speaking, it’s going to be hard for others to hear you, and this is where you will get into everyone asking you to repeat what you just said, or worse ignoring what you said because you’re too far away.
Move your body literally towards the center of the conversation. This is an easy way to automatically be part of the conversation. People will notice the movement, so act naturally, and genuinely interested in what is happening. Once they make eye contact with you it’s time to insert your thoughts into the conversation.
Here’s my trick to reposition without coming off as odd: Wait to reposition until you are talking. That’ll make your move look natural.
15. Talk with your body and use hand gestures
If your voice is naturally quiet, be bold with your body. Use your arms, hands, fingers, to make gestures to emphasize the words you are saying. Confidence is exerted through body movements, so move!
Think of your body like an exclamation point. It can bring excitement to the words you speak, and spark interest in those around you. By using gestures to emphasize what you say, you draw attention to yourself, and people will want to listen up and hear exactly what you have to say.
It’s important not to go overboard with this tip. It’s an easy one to overdo, you’ll need to experiment and practice to find a good, natural balance.
16. Don’t overcorrect
After reading and digesting these tips, make sure you don’t take any of them too far. Nothing is more annoying in a group conversation than that one person who insists on making some loud comment about every single thing that is said. Typically those comments have little substance and detract from the conversation flow.
It’s okay to make mistakes, we all do, all the time. Just make sure you try to learn from your mistakes. Try to find a balance where you make yourself heard without being annoying or taking all the attention.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!