Videoconference Style: Too Loud!

I have noticed for years that there is a natural tendency to talk more loudly on speaker phones, cell phones, and in video conferences. My theory is that whenever there is a reduction in the data we transmit as we communicate, we compensate with a louder voice.

Here are a few examples of what is lost as we use technology to transmit our voices:

  • Reduced fidelity: Phone conversations transmit a reduced fidelity of sound, specifically in the high frequencies. Some speech sounds, like “S” and “F” sound alike over the phone. Cutting this high-frequency energy can not only make some speech sounds indistinguishable, but important voice quality information is eliminated. The authors of this very interesting article posit that high frequency energy conveys information about voice quality, localization, and intelligibility.
  • Time lag: We also frequently deal with time lag. Even a brief moment of silence from the person on the other end can make us wonder if we have been heard at all. We might rush in to repeat or rephrase just as the other person responds. The lag may be in transmitting or receiving our message, or in the processing of the degraded signals, once received.
  • Video and audio out-of-sync: Video conference meetings can add to the confusion, especially if we have a slow signal and the video and audio are out of sync or periodically freeze. We can forget the purpose of the technology and experience stress.
  • Assumed acoustic reversibility. We tend to think that others hear the world as we do. But in an online meeting, our voice might be coming through loud and clear, but others may sound distorted or muted; and the opposite could be true; or we could all sound bad! This and three other unique differences between communication in-person versus over videoconference was discussed in a post titled “4 weird things that happen when you videoconference“.

So with these differences, we may speak more loudly. The cliché of the person yelling their message to someone who speaks a different language, as ineffective as it is, provides another example of the tendency to get louder when we are not understood.

Are you a loud talker in your Zoom calls? Is it a problem? Assess whether you regularly talk more loudly than needed. Ask people you trust if you do this. Notice your communication partners as you speak: Do they pull back when you are talking? Also, pay attention to how your throat feels during and after meetings. If it is sore, you may be talking louder than necessary.

For some, a bit of awareness is all they need to adjust to a more moderate level. For many, changing vocal behaviors is very difficult. We have years of experience helping people make their communication more effective, so if you need help with this or other issues, contact us.