Developing a Strong Speaking Voice When You Have Social Anxiety Disorder

Learn how to project your voice to overcome social anxiety.
People with SAD may mumble or speak too quietly.. Alan Graf / Getty Images

Individuals who are dealing with social anxiety disorder (SAD) often struggle with voice issues.

People with SAD tend to use a quiet and weak-sounding voice and may mumble. Tension resulting from social anxiety is usually the culprit, as this can interfere with showcasing your best voice.

Whether or not it is fair, having a weak voice affects how other people view you. Your voice establishes the type of relationship that you want to have with someone—whether it is one of friendliness and acceptance or being standoffish.

More often than not, those with social anxiety disorder give the impression through their voice that they want to be left alone.

While your voice is partly influenced by the size of your vocal cords, it is possible to improve various aspects of your voice to create a positive impression when you speak.

In short, your goal should be to develop the best possible version of your own voice: one that is

  • pleasant
  • warm
  • true to your personality
  • exudes strength
  • easily heard by others
  • rich and varied
  • clear and articulated

If your self-esteem is so low that you don't think you even deserve to have that big, full, rich voice, think of it this way. Developing your best voice is actually helpful to others as it makes it easier for them to converse with you.

Analyze Your Voice

The first step in improving your voice is to analyze where it might be deficient because of your social anxiety.

You can complete this step either by enlisting the help of another person, or creating an audio or video recording of yourself when in conversation.

To analyze your voice, use the voice profile found at the end of the manual by Toastmasters International. Go through each item and rate your voice on the scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is most negative and 7 is most positive. Scores of 4 or less indicate areas in which improvement may be needed.

7 Problematic Speech Characteristics

Once you've completed your voice profile you will know the areas in which you need to devote your attention.

Below are some of the potential problems you may have identified that can be associated with SAD.

1. Monotone: You speak in a very narrow range of pitch, which can make what you say sound uninteresting.

2. Too Quiet: You speak too quietly, to the point that others have trouble hearing you.

3. Mumbling: You move your lips very little when you talk and don't pronounce words clearly.

4. Too Slow: You speak at an overly slow rate (less than 120 words per minute), which can cause listeners to lose interest.

5. Too Fast: You speak at an overly high rate (more than 160 words per minute), which can make you sound nervous and frustrate listeners.

6. Too Low: An overly low-pitched voice can be hard for others to hear.

7. Too High: An overly high-pitched or nasal voice can make you sound nervous or whiny.

Tips to Improve Your Voice

1. Posture

When you are standing, pretend there is an imaginary string pulling upward on the top of your head. When you are sitting, be sure not too slouch over. Good posture allows your lungs to fill up properly, which can improve the quality of your voice.

2. Rate of Speech

The ideal rate of speech is between 120 and 160 words per minute.

You can determine your rate of speech using the following simple steps:

  • Choose a few paragraphs from a book or magazine.
  • Using a stopwatch, read the selected article or book for one minute at your normal speaking rate (most people speak at the same rate at which they read). 
  • Mark the point at which you hit the one-minute mark. Then, count the number of words up until that point.

If you find that you are a fast talker (rate over 160 words/minute), practice the same section again taking 2 seconds to say each word. 

If you find that you are a slow talker (rate less than 120 words/minute), practice the section again reading it as fast as you can.

Do these practice exercises regularly and you should find that your rate of speech gradually improves.

3. Get Your Voice Out of Your Throat

People with social anxiety disorder may have tense throat and jaw muscles.

Learning how to relax these muscles will make it easier to speak with a pleasant-sounding voice, rather than one that sounds constricted. It is easier to project your voice when you move it forward out of your throat.

Practice the following exercises recommended by Toastmasters several times a day for a few minutes each time:

  1. Yawn and drop your jaw as far as it will go. Hum with your lips closed and your jaw loose.
  2. With a relaxed throat, repeat words such as "hang, harm, lane, main, lone, loom."
  3. Massage your throat muscles to get rid of tightness.
  4. Repeat sounds such as "nah, nay, nee, no, noo." Again, drop your jaw and relax your throat.

As you practice these exercises, note how tense your throat and jaw feel at the beginning and how they gradually relax.

You can also practice throat relaxation by counting while keeping your throat and jaw relaxed. Do this while lying on the floor, then while sitting, and finally while standing. Your goal should be to eventually count to 100 with all muscles relaxed and taking a new breath after every 5 minutes.

4. Breathe From the Diaphragm

When you speak, it should feel as though your breath is entering from your belly, rather than being pulled down your throat. Proper breathing means letting your belly rise when you inhale, and fall when you exhale.

A voice that originates in the diaphragm commands attention and sounds more attractive.

The following are examples of exercises for you to get better at using your diaphragm when you breath:

  • Complete exhalation:  Exhale until you have let out every last breath. This will force you to do a full deep inhalation.
  • Holding your breath:  Hold your breath for counts of 15, 20, 30, 45, and 60 seconds (gradually working your way up) to strengthen your diaphragm.
  • Closed lips laugh: Close your lips and laugh silently through your nose. This will naturally engage your diaphragm.
  • Yoga bends: Bend over at your waist and hang limp to naturally expel air.
  • Counted exhales: Exhale to a count of 5 and then 10.

5. Vary Your Pitch

Your voice should express emotion and conviction rather than come across as a monotone. People with social anxiety disorder tend to use a narrow range of pitches when they speak, because they feel restricted and uncomfortable.

Practice varying your pitch by reading aloud from a book or magazine and varying the pitch of different words and sentences, making them rise or fall.

You can also expand the range of your voice. First, determine your range by singing along with notes on a piano (real or even an online one will work). Find the lowest and highest notes that you can sing. Then, work on trying to expand your pitch by practicing lower and higher notes each day.

6. Articulation

Individuals with SAD may mumble as a way to avoid being in the spotlight. Mumbling is akin to talking with something in front of your mouth—its distracting and frustrating for listeners.

Articulating your words starts with making a decision to be careful when you speak. When you talk, make a point of opening your mouth and using the full range of motion of your lips. 

You can also do some exercises with your lips, such as puckering and widening your lips, 10 times slow and then 10 times fast.

7. Volume

People with social anxiety disorder tend to speak too quietly, which can make them seem invisible or cause them to be overlooked during conversation. Ironically, as you begin to speak louder, you might even find that your confidence grows and anxiety is reduced.

  • Practice increasing the volume of your voice by singing the sound "ah," and gradually increasing until your hit your maximum volume. Do this regularly to practice your ability to speak more loudly.
  • Practice speaking more loudly by talking to someone who is on the other side of the room. This works especially well if there are others present and you have to speak louder in order to be heard.

In addition to speaking loudly enough to be heard, it is important to also vary the volume of your voice for emphasis. Practice by reading a section of text and varying the volume of your voice to emphasize important words.

8. Focus on Delivery

When you are making small talk, focus more on your delivery and worry less about the content of what you are talking about.

It is more important that you speak in a loud and clear voice than have amazing things to say—because after all, small talk is about building relationships.

9. Get Professional Help

If you've tried and failed to improve the delivery of your voice, it might be worth enlisting the help of a professional.

You could sign up for singing or acting lessons, or even work with a private voice coach. It could only take an hour to develop your best voice—plus lots of practice to make sure it becomes internalized.

Research on Voice and SAD

A 2014 study found that in an experimental condition that made people with SAD feel excluded, they subsequently showed decreased vocal confidence, in contrast to those without SAD.

Therefore, if you have a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, be sensitive to your own reactions to rejection. Do you drop to a low mumble if you feel rejected? If so, you will need to be extra vigilant to be aware of that tendency and to draw on the new skills you have learned when your anxiety is triggered.


Gilboa-Schechtman E, Galili L, Sahar Y, Amir O. Being “in” or “out” of the game: subjective and acoustic reactions to exclusion and popularity in social anxiety. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;8:147. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00147.

Preston Ni. How to Strengthen and Improve the Sound of Your Speaking Voice.

Social Anxiety Institute. What Goes On in the 3-Week Group.

Toastmasters International. Your Speaking Voice.

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