Am I Speaking At The Right Volume?

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?

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39 thoughts on “Am I Speaking At The Right Volume?

  1. I tend to get carried away at dinner parties — probably because I get so excited when I’ve managed to hear something that I jump in with a comment.
    My husband shushes me. I guess that’s good, but I often wonder if others are thinking the same thing or if spousal hyper-awareness is the explanation.

  2. Sam Trychin taught many of us in HLAA a wonderful trick for getting feedback from others about the level of our voices — ask the listener to use a hand signal — the way a symphony conductor would– flat hand, raised or lowered depending on the message to be given. That way, you are getting the message without interruption mid-sentence.

  3. Good post. This is something to which everyone can relate, hearing impaired or not. We’ve all been in similar situations. I tend to talk too loudly when I’m on my cell phone, something my kids constantly tease me about. Thanks for the interesting facts!

  4. Thank you indeed . I forget to ask whether I’m speaking too loud or quietly .. so good idea to ask for feedback . That way can sense the right volume but it won’t be perfect ..

  5. Great post. I’ve had this experience just recently. It’s kind of weird to be the one asked to “speak up” when I’ve wanted to say that to people so often in my own life.

  6. Does anyone else have an issue where the automatic programming in their hearing aid also makes it difficult to determine what is too loud or too soft? An extra noise in the room may cause your hearing aid to adjust the sound, but it distorts what you think is loud or soft.

    • definately this happens with me quite a lot! I have to adjust my hearing aids frequently. I am open about this both at work and with friends. Part of me thinks that the more open I am helps to create greater awareness of the issues for people who have hearing loss. More often than not it is an invisible difference and it is hard for those who are not aware to know if we don’t tell them!

  7. Great tips (as always) Shari. It’s good to teach us how the hearing impaired deals with certain issues. My husband has some hearing issues and I have hearing, due to MS, that is very sharp. Noises such as dropping a fork on a plate or a bang (that isn’t necessarily loud) make me jump. Together we are quite a pair, always raising and lowering the volume of the TV until we get it just right.

    Another wonderful post.

  8. A dear friend created a signal where he gently tugs on his ear to let me know when I am talking too loudly. It sends me the message without hurting my feelings. I have been teaching it to everyone in my life!

  9. My hearing was excellent until a rock concert a few years ago. I was front row center, in front of a speaker the size of a Suburban, and now I really have trouble hearing… Cumulative damage to be sure.

  10. Yes! This happens to me quite often!

    I remember when I was out on a date with my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) at a restaurant. I was having a particularly bad Meniere’s day and my voice was louder than it should be. Some jackass Dude-Bro said “Somebody’s Mommy didn’t teach her about indoor voice!”

    I walked up to him and spoke (and signed in ASL in big, noticeable gesture) “I am so sorry. I am hard of hearing and going deaf. I can’t judge the volume of my voice. So sorry to disturb you.” (I also added some insults in my ASL)

    EVERYONE stared at him and glared. One woman said “Wow, he was such an asshole to the Deaf girl.” Eventually he got SO uncomfortable with the glares that he slithered out of the restaurant!

  11. Based on feedback from many sources, My voice is soft. It sounds loud to me. My daughters are ungodly loud. Sometimes I want to cover my ears when they talk. I wonder if everyone hears their voice from the inside differently.

  12. Hi Shari,

    Wow, now THAT is a good one! Yes, yes and yes! Over the years, I’ve gotten used to reminders and admonitions about not hearing or that, turning up my hearing aids, blah, blah. For some reason, this one still hurts. Another reminder how “defective” I can be? Just recently, we’d traveled about 90 minutes to go shopping and I’d switched hearing aid programs for the car. The first store we went in, I was speaking with some confidence about some thing, “Tom, shush….you’re yelling…” embarrassment kicks in and I go silent…..What I wanted to say would have gotten me kicked!

    A good reminder to pay attention to program changes when going from a noisy situation into a quiet one! And, one more thing for my hearing partner to assist? Isn’t this fun? Great post again, keep ‘em coming!

  13. For me this has been an on going thing for many years, so I try to go out to places where there is a small crowd of people but still have problems with my volume, it really does bother me but what can I do? Learned to live with it

    • When my husband and I go to a restaurant, I often ask to be seated in the quietest booth possible, away from speakers and perhaps, a loud group. We always ask if they can turn the music down (off would be great!). During the course of the meal, I still ask my husband, if it has gotten louder, did they turn the music down as we requested or are people just talking louder?? Sometimes when the waitress asks, does that sound better, I turn to my husband because I can’t often tell the difference. This is more about background noise and monitoring my own volume, but the background noise also makes a difference in whether I speak louder or softer.

  14. […] I was recently contacted by students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to learn more about my experiences living with hearing loss. Specifically they were interested in my thoughts on moderating the volume of my voice. They had seen a blog post I had written about the difficulty people with hearing loss often have knowing if they are speaking at the right volume in different settings. You can read that post here. […]

  15. I am trying speech therapy at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston to learn other ways of sensing what a normal volume of speech Feels like, rather than depending on hearing my own voice for volume and usually being too loud/strident. Fingers crossed!

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