Project! Project! Project! Come across vividly, make a memorable impression, and gain that ever-elusive competitive edge over all the other speakers in the room. Projecting gives your voice power and keeps your message ringing in the ears of your listener. When you were young, parents, teachers, coaches probably bombarded you with that word constantly: “project.” Don’t be such a wallflower. Put yourself out there. Make yourself heard.
The problem is, nobody really tells you how to do it. And most people mistakenly confuse “project” with “Shout!” “Be louder!” So it forever remains a mystery—and an unused tool for communicating well, especially speaking well and getting your message across to others.
It’s a shame because projecting is what makes people sit up and listen. Have you ever said something important in a business meeting and no one pays attention, and then five minutes later the person four chairs away says the same thing and gets all the credit? Why? You got it: he or she projects themselves loud(ly) and clear(ly).
Communications theorist and coach Nick Morgan, in a blog for Public Words, correctly stresses that “every voice projects the personality of its speaker. In other words, voice determines Voice, the capital letter indicating the quality of the human being behind the sounds he or she produces.”
Morgan backed up the importance of projection, citing 2017 study published in the American Psychological Association’s flagship journal, American Psychologist. After that study came out, the study’s lead author, Michael Kraus, a social psychologist and associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, told the APA that, “Our research suggests that relying on a combination of vocal and facial cues, or solely facial cues, may not be the best strategy for accurately recognizing emotions or intentions of others.”
Projection, then, has almost everything to do with the speaker’s intentions.
The good news? It is relatively easy to become proficient at the physical technique of projecting your voice. And this isn’t just me being optimistic or trying to sell you on what I’ve sold to others. There have been studies showing that it is indeed possible to change the way we hear and speak. In a University of Chicago study on perfect pitch that came out in July 2015 in Cognition, one of the lead authors, Howard Nusbaum, told The Hearing Review, “This is the first significant demonstration that the ability to identify notes by hearing them may well be something that individuals can be trained to do. It’s an ability that is teachable.”
So it is teachable. And learnable. And doable. However, the change of attitude that needs to go along with it is often harder for a client to accept.
You need to be willing to stand out when you speak and let your voice tone send the message that what you are saying is important. So important that the audience needs to listen intently or they will miss something crucial.
You are probably all thinking, does this mean I have to be on and sending out energy all the time? In my opinion, if you want to be an excellent communicator and sell your ideas powerfully, the answer is a resounding, Yes!
Many of us have sat through tremendously boring presentations either at work or a conference and thought when is this going to be over. But we always remember the message of the speaker who had a well-projected, low-pitched, resonant voice.
From the ten top most loved speaking voices, we have James Earl Jones, Dianne Sawyer, Morgan Freeman, Julia Roberts, Sean Connery, and newscaster’s such as Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite. Listening to a great speaking voice is like listening to a wonderful singing voice.
Of course, people will say that all these famous “voices,” they were just born with it. Again: they were. But they worked at it. And they were taught how to enhance something they already had and make it all the more effective.
And the first rule of projection, to quote Anett Grant, CEO of Executive Speaking, from her 2017 story in Fast Company, “You Can Speak More Powerfully Without Ever Raising Your Voice,” “First,” she opened: “stop ‘projecting.’” Projecting power, as she pointed out, “doesn’t mean getting louder.”
More specifically, as I teach my clients, when learning to project, the rule of thumb is to throw your voice so that the person furthest away from you can hear you. And your ability to project your voice rides on the energy of your breath.
In order to influence, motivate, and persuade you need to project without sounding too loud, high-pitched, and/or harsh. Staying connected to the breath is what gives you control over the way you sound and as a result, the way you are perceived.
And apart from technique, what’s also crucial is training yourself psychologically. As instructed by Peter Hopwood on the site for the World Innovation and Change Management Institute, “The first [thing to do] is allowing your voice to be heard with your personality together with confidence and belief in the messages you share, behind your words. . . .
Another is simply setting a clear intention.”
In a room of business professionals, you will benefit over and over again from having a leadership voice: a voice that sounds positive, engaging, in charge. One with intention and confidence, and capable of leading a group of people forward to success.
In order to give readers a better idea of the people with whom I’ve worked, and the challenges I’ve helped them overcome, I decided to reach out to some of my clients. Past and present. As part of a series of interviews, which I call Hearing Voices, where I talk to them about their work, their speaking voice, the reasons they reached out to me, and the changes they’ve made in their speaking voices. And what they’ve noticed afterward, about their own speaking voice and the voices of others. And so here, I try to relate their issues to what I’ve been writing about on my blogs.
Below is Camille D. Camille’s primary issue was projection. Making herself heard. And not so much as a public speaker but in her office, with her patients (Camille is a dermatologist, with many patients who are older), and even when out with her husband (at a restaurant, a basketball game, wherever).
Camille came to me several months ago. And so we worked on projecting herself with more power and expressiveness.
What line of work are you in?
I’m a physician and I have to speak to people all day long.
Why did you reach out to Sandra?
I’ve always had a soft voice. And whenever I went out to someplace with background noise, like a busy restaurant, the waiter wouldn’t be able to hear me. Or worse, because I work with a lot of elderly people as my patients, they wouldn’t be able to hear me either. Or when I was at a conference and I’d start talking, I could see the look on people’s faces. That was awful.
Then when the pandemic hit and everyone had to wear masks, everything was just harder. Harder to hear me. It dampened my voice even more. You’re already feeling socially isolated to some degree. To feel like you’ve lost your ability to communicate with people makes you feel even more isolated.
It got to a point where it was affecting all my interactions. I didn’t even want to speak to anyone.
The catalyst for me was to help me project. I was trying to force the sound out and by the end of the day my throat got so tired, it got harder and harder for people to understand me. I had to figure out something to do.
How did you find Sandra?
I searched vocal coaches in my area. Or people who help actors to project. But there was no one local. So I expanded my search, especially when so many people started going to virtual communication and doing Zoom calls.
I made a list of about seven people. I read everything about Sandra’s work. And she seemed to make the most sense for what I was looking for.
What did you discover about your voice—your speaking voice—that you hadn’t known or realized before working with Sandra?
I was nervous about taking the voice analysis but I found it very, very useful. And there were more exercises for me to do than I thought there’d be. Then I talked for about an hour with Sandra. I felt like, from the beginning I found her easy but surprising at how many things she could pick up on about my voice.
I had many issues. I’ve always been sort of anxious and it’s a quality that actually served me well. It helped me get through medical school. It compelled me to study hard. But it also tightened up everything in my body and especially in the musculature of my throat.
What did you and Sandra work on?
I spent a full week doing just breathing exercises. And as we went along, she definitely modified what we were doing. What was also surprising is that what Sandra does, there’s nothing cookie cutter about it. I know because of what she had my daughter do. I hired her to work with my daughter as well. She’s 18. And I didn’t want her to go through what I’ve gone through. I was on a very different course from what she was on.
What have you discovered about yourself working with Sandra?
It’s an interesting idea that we have a voice from birth. That it’s shared by our parents and kind of passed down.
How was it working with Sandra?
It requires work and effort. I always have to work at it—still.
It all made sense structurally. But even knowing that, it was really helpful to hear someone point out to you what they notice in your voice.
Have you noticed any difference in how people react to you now?
People’s reception of my voice has definitely changed. When I go out to a restaurant now I can place my order to the waiter from across the table. In the past, they’d always come over and stand close to me so they could hear me. Now they don’t move.
My patients are able to hear me and understand what I’m saying now, too. It’s not always perfect. But if I see that look on their face, I remember what Sandra told me and I try again.
What she’s given me are tools I can use, so that I can adjust and correct how I’m speaking.
And I no longer have that sore throat sensation.
There are also subtle changes. But positive interactions with your environment and other people makes you feel better about yourself.
I had all these positive things happen. It helps me interact in a better way with my family, with my patients, with strangers. It’s nice to be heard.
Do you notice other peoples’ voices now?
Definitely. At this point, I admire peoples’ natural speaking voice. Sometimes I even have voice envy.
My husband has a beautiful voice. He can find out so many things about other people, about his patients. I have the same level of interest but not having had his speaking voice it’s been more of a challenge to engage people.
Was it just mechanical or were there other things about your voice that you learned?
My family, the family I grew up in, has always been quiet. Our interactions are not very dramatic or loud. But my husband’s family, they’re Irish. They love high volume. So where his volume might be a 4, mine is probably a 2.
You need to turn up your volume, is what Sandra would tell me.
How was it overall, working with Sandra?
I found it to be a very positive experience. Both in the tools Sandra has given me and in my self-evaluation. If I had to choose would I do it again, definitely.