Quiet is the name of Susan Cain’s seminal book on introverts. Anyone who identifies as an introvert has inevitably been asked “why are you so quiet?” at some (in reality probably many) points in their life. Introverts think before speaking, so don’t just say whatever is in their head, often hesitating to say anything at all. They also don’t like loudness, either to be loud themselves or generally in their surroundings. So how can introverts communicate confidently and make themselves heard without going fully against their natural tendencies?
Having taught public speaking to small groups for many years, one of the biggest game-changers I see is learning to project your voice (something I experienced myself before teaching it to others). I was training in a room with a small stage area at the front and less than 15 people in the room in total, sitting not more than 10 metres away. Some people (my feeling is the introverts were more affected) we could hardly hear the first time they stood up in front of the group.
They may have had incredibly interesting things to say, but we simply could not hear them. And when it’s hard for the audience to listen, they are less likely to do so.
Introverts don’t like to be loud. The thought of shouting makes me shudder. Projecting is different. Projecting is about confidence. Projecting your voice says you know you have something valuable to say and want other people to be able to hear it. Projecting makes other people want to listen and comfortably be able to do so.
It’s about the physicality of it, how you breathe (from the stomach not chest) and how you use that breath from to form words. For me it’s also a lot to do with mindset. I feel different when I speak in a conversational tone, when I project my voice and when I shout (the feeling here is icky and I avoid it as far as possible).
There is a difference between simply talking more loudly to make yourself heard and projecting. This doesn’t just apply when standing on a stage and speaking, but in meetings as well. To me shouting says “you must listen to me”. Projecting says “you should listen to me”. A subtle but important difference in how people come across.
Those introverts in my public speaking workshop learnt to project their voices. It turned out they did have powerful and fascinating things to say. By the end of the course they could project them, still speaking in a way that reflected their personality, but so that the audience could listen easily and appreciate their message.