How are they listening to you? Part 1: Audibility

Engaging an audience is key to effective speaking, but how can a speaker be actively listened to? Is volume all that’s required to get attention? In Part 1: Audibility, I write about how a speaker creates strength of sound to communicate and the benefits of physical awareness during the process of speaking to maintain a healthy voice.

When considering the volume of the voice, “I can’t hear you at the back!” springs to my mind of past experiences. A teacher, sometimes unaware of their own vocal technique, raises their voice to a young person: “The people at the back won’t be able to hear a word you say. Try again, but now with more effort!” Perhaps you might be familiar with something similar yourself.

In basic terms, the voice is made from the movement of: (1) thought impulses made in the brain, which stimulate reactions in the body; (2) breath-flow as it leaves the body (exhalation); and (3) vibrations of the vocal folds (often known as the vocal cords) formed by the muscular structure of the larynx (voice box).

Without the knowledge of safe and healthy practice of how to use voice, it can be the intensity of muscular effort of the vibrating vocal folds (i.e. providing greater volume of sound) which can harm an individual’s voice. In some cases, if continuous effort is exerted over prolonged periods of time without preparation, irreversible damage (dysphonia) can occur. See information provided by the British Voice Association on its website for further information.

In my opinion, the ability to produce volume is important for a speaker to be heard by the audience (especially without a microphone), but it is the knowing how to use it which is more valuable. An unhealthy muffled voice, as authentic and real as it may be, stands less chance to creatively capture its audience over time than one that is able to comfortably fluctuate its volume levels.

Unwanted tension and alignment habits can become embedded in a child during their formative years. Consequently, these ‘habits’ can be difficult to unlearn. Therefore, teaching and role modelling healthy speaking to young people is vital for their development.

From my experience of working with speech and drama teachers, quick warm-up vocal exercises to get young learners ready to speak are usually encouraged. However, the holistic approach to teaching speaking skills (i.e. taking into account the whole body’s simultaneous physical movement and mental agility), and how voice sensitively responds to its environment, is not always explained and/or exercised during lesson time. I am aware from my own teaching practice that preparation time of the spoken word can become more restricted closer to performance/ presentation time. However, Voice Confidence always teaches, from the get-go, how the vocal musculature requires support from the whole body’s movement (see Jan. 2022 blog: ‘Dem Bones…’) and voice exercises are practised regularly.

Teaching young people how to care for their voice is an essential part of Voice Confidence’s work. By learning to appreciate how we breathe physically, young people have a better understanding of how their body adapts to different circumstances (i.e talking with friends or being asked to stand to present or perform). Being mindful of the way people breathe is different because it depends on how they feel in the present moment. Equally, by knowing how unwanted tension in the body can hinder the freedom of the release of breath, young people can hear for themselves the difference in their individual sound. Finally, understanding the importance of hydration and the overall health of the body (e.g. staying fit, eating and sleeping well), young people are better prepared to speak aloud. They know what it means to raise their volume without the risk of damage to their vocal folds and can consider the long term repercussions if they don’t prepare themselves. After all, the voice’s dynamism relies on the wellbeing of the individual!

Paul Ranger in his book ‘Meaning, Form and Performance’ explains succinctly how to project words so that an audience can fully engage with the speaker. However, as he makes clear, it is not solely the effort of the vibratory sound which affects the listener. Therefore, I encourage you to return to Voice Confidence’s Blog page to read Part 2, ‘Clearly it’s clarity!’ next month.

What happened during February 2022? I visited the unique ‘Poetry Pharmacy’ ( in Bishop’s Castle and talked with its owner, Deborah Alma and also with poet Pat Edwards. I attended the British Voice Association’s (BVA) Education Working Party with the aim of raising the profile of the importance of using spoken voice in everyday life and helping people, from all walks of life, to appreciate the value of voice. Also, I attended the Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama (STSD) Annual General Meeting to network with those who are passionate about teaching speech and drama. Later in the year, I am looking forward to reaching out to some of the people with whom I had the fortune to speak with in the breakout sessions and aim to attend the Annual Summer Conference in August. Finally, despite storm Eunice, I was proud to be involved in Verve Poetry & Spoken Word Festival 2022 in Birmingham; as a volunteer, I assisted the talented artist Jasmine Gardosi in her show ‘Dancing to Music You Hate’, and had the privilege to join Kat Lyon’s Creative Writing Workshop, ‘Reconnecting with the Body’. Thanks to people’s encouragement of my work, I continue to strive to grow Voice Confidence.

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