President Teddy Roosevelt once said, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick." Good advice for diplomatic relations with foreign countries, but not so much when we're speaking in public.
Have you ever had to listen to a speaker in front of a group with lots to say that you really wanted to hear, but his volume was permanently turned down to low? For example, in a relatively intimate situation, say a private room in a restaurant or a small conference room, where there really isn't any need for a microphone? There you are, sitting only about 3 or 4 feet from the speaker, but you can hardly hear him. In a larger room it's worse. If someone raises a hand or calls out to ask the presenter to speak louder, he complies for a few words, and then goes right back to the just above a whisper level. Why doesn't the speaker talk louder, especially after being asked to speak up?
Believe it or not, he probably doesn't realize he can't be heard. He's so busy focusing on just getting through it that he's not thinking about the audience at all. It's a very common problem for folks who believe, "They're going to judge me and I'm going to fail," or "They're not going to be interested in what I have to say," or "I really don't want to do this, but I have to for my job, so I'll just get it over with." People who seem unable to speak loud enough to be heard are often convinced that what they have to say will not come out right or have no merit. If they speak softly, maybe no one will notice.
Often these fears stem from something in the speaker's past that she may or may not even remember. Maybe she grew up in a family where every time she expressed her own thoughts, someone criticized her or told her to be quiet and let her elders speak. Maybe she was constantly compared to a sibling who was smarter, more articulate, funnier, or the favorite of the household. Never receiving praise or a pat on the back for the things we thought or said as a child can make us feel inadequate and incompetent. Being laughed at for speaking your mind, at home or in school, can leave lasting feelings of humiliation.
As adults, we often have no memory of those uncomfortable times when we felt judged, teased or put down. The feelings remain with us, though, to re-surface the minute we put ourselves out there in front of people. Up they come to make us feel scared and not good enough to deliver our talk well. When a presenter speaks too softly to be heard, it may be because he's so afraid of what you're thinking about him that he's trying to minimize his presence in front of you. If he speaks quietly, maybe you won't notice how incompetent he is.
We in the audience are aware of none of those things. We want the speaker to speak up because we want to benefit from what she has to say. We want to receive the gift of her knowledge and experience, whether she's giving us a 60-second bio or a 30-minute lecture. We want to leave the room knowing more about the subject than we did when we came in.
It's a myth that the audience is waiting to criticize you when you get up to speak. The truth is they want to get the benefit of the many years you've spent perfecting your knowledge and ability. They want you to pass your gift on to them. Give it to them with confidence. Let yourself be heard!