Have you ever been in a coffee shop, where all of a sudden it seems to get quiet and everyone turns their heads to look in your direction? When this happens to me I always wonder if I am accidentally shouting. Conversely, once in a while someone will ask me to repeat myself several times. This makes me worry if I am speaking too quietly. It is often hard for me to tell.
I hope my companions would let me now if I was speaking at a strange volume, but just in case, I always ask them. I rely on them to tell me the truth. I would hate to be speaking in a way that makes others uncomfortable. Is it my hearing loss that makes it hard for me to gauge the volume of my own voice?
This exact issue arose a few weeks ago when I was at a meeting with a group of friends with hearing loss. We were chatting while we waited for the presenter to bring the room to order. Once in a while the volume in the room would dip for a moment — maybe people thought things were about to start — but then it would resume its normal buzz.
“Am I shouting?” one of them asked nervously looking around when the volume dipped. “I can never tell how loudly I am speaking,” she added, “it makes me cautious to speak sometimes.” So it’s not just me that feels this way.
This got me wondering about the mechanics of speech volume which led me to an interesting article citing information from Dr. Amee Shah, the director of the speech acoustics lab at Cleveland State University. You can read that article here.
I learned that how loudly we speak is determined by three basic things:
1. Biology: The larger the larynx and/or the thicker the vocal chords, the louder a person will speak. No wonder male voices are often louder than female voices.
2. Age: As we age our vocal chords stiffen and vibrate more slowly which makes our voices quieter. This may partially explain why my father-in-law is so difficult for me to hear.
3. Culture: Familial norms when you were growing up can impact how loudly you speak. If you had a large household, perhaps you needed to speak louder just to be in the mix. If you have grew up with hearing loss, you may also tend to speak louder, probably because you had trouble hearing your own voice.
So what can we do to help modulate our speaking voice to the right volume?
1. Wear our hearing aids: This will give us a better sense of how loudly we are speaking in relation to the other voices and sounds around us.
2. Ask others: A quick volume check can do wonders for your confidence and willingness to socialize. Get it out of the way up front so you don’t have to worry about it during your conversation.
3. Invite feedback: It can be awkward to tell someone that they are speaking too loudly or too quietly for fear of embarrassing them. Let people know that you welcome feedback if you are speaking in a voice that is unsuitable for the situation.
Readers, do you ever wonder if you are speaking at the right volume?