Public Speaking with a Voice Disorder

Most people hate the idea of public speaking. Being in front of a group of people can be scary, but when you add a voice disorder to the mix, it can be downright terrifying. 

If you have a desire to do any public speaking be it teaching, giving reports or presenting to speech-language pathology students AND you’re concerned about your voice – don’t be. Here are some tips:

Speaking to a group of any size is very different from socializing or “close quarters” interaction.

First, when you are speaking you have a subject, preparation and a goal in mind. Socializing or chatting with a few people are generally open-ended and spontaneous in nature in terms of what you’re talking about. If you have any introverted tendencies, you tend to listen more and find interactions exhausting.

Second, when you are public speaking, other people you are speaking to are there to listen. When you’re socializing with other people, you’re all there to speak. As we all know, some people will dominate the conversation and may have poor listening skills. Public speaking is very different from socializing. If you are holding yourself back from getting up there and sharing because of socializing difficulties, it’s not a fair comparison. The two things are very different.

If you don’t have a history of public speaking before you acquired SD and you have a desire to do public speaking, don’t toss out your dream.

The thing you do need is making a plan, which starts with learning how to do public speaking with a voice disorder. Sure, to some degree it is just getting on your feet and sharing information just like playing baseball when you toss a ball and swing a bat but that doesn’t mean you’re a “natural”. You need to learn and to practice. A great way to learn and practice is with Toastmasters. You can find classes and even speech coaches to help you develop your skill. Going through these types of skill-building exercises will also help build your confidence.

If you’re still concerned with the quality of your voice and your ability to be clear enough for people to understand you, you’ve got some experimentation to try.

Experiment with various things to see what might help. Even if you’ve tried things suggested by your speech therapist that didn’t help you conversationally, try them again in the context of public speaking. For example, talking louder than a conversational voice may improve the quality of an SD voice. Learn how to manage your vocal cords better. Be aware of them when you do and don’t talk because awareness may allow you a bit of control. The point is that you have to experiment with your voice, your breath, and what’s taking place in your body such as tension.

Start small and create tiny victories so you can grow your skill and confidence.

Be willing to be upfront and transparent about your vocal cord disorder. Too many of us are embarrassed and unwilling to admit what we have to other people. You’re more self-conscious than others of your voice and when you focus too much on you, you fail to connect with others. You are doing yourself a huge disservice with that level focus. You will find when you are open that others are willing to work with you but when you try to hide they take it as a lack of trust in them. Sure, we’ve all had people say rude and stupid things to us about our voice but you can avoid a lot of that with disclosure early in the game.

Look carefully at your reasons for wanting to do public speaking.

Your motivations or driving forces are no different in nature with this goal than any other. If you want to do it badly enough, you will find a way. One way to combine a desire to speak publicly is by presenting to speech-language pathology class. Doing this will help expose and educate upcoming speech professionals that may never otherwise learn or hear someone with SD and related vocal conditions.


It's normal to be nervous, so it is important to be over-prepared. Go over your notes several times and practice your presentation. Videotape yourself or ask a friend to give feedback. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be.


Be yourself. You will establish better credibility if your personality shines through. Tell a personal story, use gestures, add humor, it helps the audience relax. This keeps them engaged in you as a speaker.


Your content should be designed for the audience you will present to. Providing basic information as though to a PhD will alienate the audience. Watch their body language and adapt. Ask yourself “if I were in the audience what will I gain from this talk?”


Nothing is worse than a presenter who simply reads what is on the slides. An outline can jog your memory and keep you organized. Simply reading from the notes shows you are not an expert on your subject. Practice so much you can speak on the topic without help.


Be willing to be upfront and transparent about your vocal disorder. You’re more self-conscious than others of your voice and when you focus too much on yourself, you fail to connect with others.


You did it! Celebrate your success then plan your next presentation. Each time you present, your confidence will build and you will become more comfortable with public speaking.