The louder the better?

I was living in a school for a while where the senior teacher, Shannen, taught Spanish in the classroom next to my apartment.  The other teachers taught upstairs.  One day she confided in me that she was jealous of one of the new teachers, Annie, because of her naturally loud, deep, authoritative voice. She didn’t feel like the senior teacher when she was around Annie as her own voice was quieter and higher in pitch and she didn’t feel like an authority.  Over the following weeks next to my apartment I heard her voice get louder, supplemented by lots of clapping and whooping.  This seemed to stun the participants, who I noticed in passing were mostly listening and didn’t say very much other than to laugh or agree. They were concentrating to be able to catch everything she was saying and to understand what was happening.  As she got louder they got quieter, and not only did this mean less Spanish practice for them, it also prevented Shannen from knowing if they were learning.

A louder voice doesn’t make a better leader.

Some situations where loudness doesn’t help:

  • If you want to have one to one or small group conversations, extra loudness will not go down well. It creates a barrier between you, and it puts you on a stage that clearly sets you apart from the group if they are speaking at their usual volume.
  • Some people get louder when they struggle to explain a concept.  It seems natural to us to repeat something more loudly when we want someone to grasp an idea we are trying to express.  There are lots of other ways to get ideas across in a different way when teaching language or new terminology for a subject. (See my post on “Ways to convey ideas”)
  • When you want more control of the learners – a slight raising of the voice to get the attention of a group works well, but it doesn’t work to raise your voice to instill ideas more effectively.

If someone tells you your voice is only loud when you teach, consider why you are doing this. It could simply be that you are on a different energy level after having had a strong coffee or cycling into work. Do you know of any cases where a facilitator or presenter having a naturally loud voice has caused problems? I can’t think of any, unless it aggravates a headache, in which case maybe the best thing to so is go home and rest!

Here are some situations where increasing the volume of your voice can help you lead a course more effectively:

  • In a large space with lots of people and no microphone.
  • To stress certain important questions or considerations.
  • To exaggerate important features of the voice where learning involves voice usage, e.g. Singing, languages, acting.
  • if the participants are tired and you need to use more exaggerated techniques to help them focus on the discussion.
  • If it is an effective way to override the internal voices (for example a yoga class for people who find it difficult to pay attention to anything beyond the thoughts in their heads).

These are the limited benefits to being unnaturally loud, and if you’re not careful, repeated misuse of the voice can damage it.  So be smart and look after your voice! (See my other blog post “Voice care for course leaders”.)

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