How do you have a conversation with someone in a noisy place without straining your hearing and losing your voice? The din at networking events and conferences can take the enjoyment out of meeting new people if you must shout at the top of your voice to be heard. Worse still, you catch every other word the person uttered and feign understanding what they said altogether. This doesn’t make for meaningful conversations.
After decades attending cocktails and mixers where you need a bullhorn to be heard above the DJ, I had to find a way to navigate these head-splitting events successfully and have a reasonably fun time.
Did you know that ambient sounds affect your sense of taste, too? Restaurant industry research shows that elevated levels of sound suppress our perceptions of the way food tastes. Yet, event planners overlook that detail to create buzz-worthy experiences. No wonder I lose my appetite for gourmet canapes in noisy distracting settings. Not to mention that I also avoid eating hors d’oeuvres because I’m hyper-careful not to have anything stuck in my teeth.
Since bustling conventions, receptions and mixers are part of business life, here are six practical strategies to help you cut through the noise and improve the quality of your conversations and experiences even in the loudest places.
1. Understand what happens in loud environments
Speakers naturally increase their vocal effort when speaking in loud places. This is called the Lombard reflex and entails not only speaking more loudly but also changes in pitch, rate of speech, and the duration of syllables. Think about how you tend to speak more slowly and overemphasize certain sounds when you’re straining to be heard.
2. Practice good projection
Because you may be overtaxing your voice to project in noisy settings, practice speaking from the chest and diaphragm, allowing your voice to carry naturally. This technique will not only make your voice louder but help you maintain clarity amidst the chaos of sound. Hydrate more and take deeper deliberate breaths than normal. Basic good vocal hygiene is particularly important to avoid hurting your voice in the long term.
3. Let the other person do the talking
If your voice doesn’t project sufficiently, go into receiver mode. Save your voice and listen more. We tend to look more at the other person when listening than when we are speaking anyway. Effective listening means looking at the speaker and listening with your eyes, using attentive body language, facing the speaker squarely with good posture, and avoiding distractions like looking at your phone. Give little visual and auditory cues that you’re present and interested by nodding your head, smiling, and gesturing in acknowledgment.
4. Listen with your whole body
You may assume that listening happens with our ears alone. But sound expert and TED speaker Julian Treasure tells us that the whole body participates in listening. “Being seen to pay attention is just as important as paying attention itself,” he says. Psychologists found that on average listeners gaze at the speaker 70 percent of the time, while speakers gaze at the listener only 40 percent of the time, mostly to check that the other person is listening.
5. Keep it short and simple
Clarity is paramount in noisy settings. Keep your messages short, simple, and to the point. Avoid unnecessary details and focus on conveying what is most important. This not only makes it easier for others to understand you but also increases the chances of being heard. Make the short cocktail banter enticing enough to prompt a more in-depth conversation in a different setting. Make sure you exchange contact information and set the intention to talk again at another time and place.
6. Choose your timing and location wisely
Timing is crucial when trying to be heard in a noisy place. Look for natural breaks or lulls in the noise and seize those moments to communicate. Avoid competing with the loudest elements in the environment by strategically moving away from the epicenter of noise such as the bar area and dance floor.
In a world filled with noise, being heard when you have something important to say can be challenging and frustrating. By understanding how to project your voice better, using plain language, establishing eye contact, listening more than speaking, and listening consciously and deliberately, you can navigate even the noisiest environments with confidence and impact. And, as a bonus, you may enjoy the taste of the food better unencumbered by excess noise.