How you can avoid violating the safety zone of speaking discretion?

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Can you keep a secret?

Most of us believe we can. In fact, we shock ourselves when we “leak” the contents of a confidential and trusted tidbit of information. Pressure, from within and without, is often the cause of our indiscretion when it comes to divulging that which we heretofore believed we would not. Peer pressure, job pressure, and the inevitable “I know something you don’t know” can create such internal pressure on the human mind the only cure is to vent the hot info being contained. But what happens when you divulge secret or confidential information without even knowing you are doing it?

Over the last 40 years we have heard a lot about leaks. From The Pentagon Papers to “Deep Throat” of the Watergate era to the WikiLeaks War Logs. It seems humans have a proclivity for divulging information they acquire confidentially. In truth, the motive to “do the right thing” is undeniably at the root of some of this behavior. I will not contest that here, mainly because truth, like beauty, is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

What I would like to discuss here is how seemingly reliable people innocently divulge confidential information all the time without even realizing they are doing it. Are you one of them?


Ever since the invention of the cell phone, I find that I am repeatedly assaulted, exposed, and inundated with more private information than I care to process. A whole lot of it is TMI that I would really, really prefer never to hear. Once, while waiting at the car wash, I heard a complete break-up of a relationship. Who would want to expose this most private detail in a public forum? “Can you hear me now” seems to be more of a strategy than a marketing slogan.

“Yes, I can hear you now. And, frankly, I’d like you to take it down a notch or two or four or even eight.”

From restaurants to theaters to planes, trains and sidewalks more and more people are screaming the details of their private lives at levels loud enough for everybody to hear; two towns over, whether they choose to hear it or not.

I was raised with an understanding of a “restaurant voice”. The one to use when you are in a discrete social setting. The only time it was appropriate to raise your voice was when you sang “Happy Birthday” to another member of your party or another diner in the establishment as a well wishing for the occasion. Now, the level of vocal pollution in restaurants and cafés from people conducting wide open discussions on the mobile devices is deafening and a good deal of it is not for public consumption.

Heck, we didn’t even speak that loud when we were kids connecting to each other over two tine cans and a waxed line.


During the last week, I needed to alter my routine due to the devastation from an F1 tornado and macro burst that knocked out power throughout the area where I live. While conducting business in a well-known bread eatery, I noticed many other business people taking advantage of the free wi-fi and power to do the same. One group, seated just a table away, was conducting a meeting and openly discussing business information and strategy with complete abandonment at a vocal level loud enough for me to know who they were, what they were saying, etc.

I’m sure these are intelligent, well-intentioned people. I can’t say for sure, but they might have been sharing some of the same proprietary information probably covered by the non-disclosure agreement they may have signed upon being hired.

Nice people, behaving in an easily avoidable way is quickly becoming a common denominator.


Wise leaders and effective speakers understand the power of artfully placed discretion as a critical element of their speaking success. More importantly, they understand the appropriate range of volume to be used in each setting. They know the Four Zones of Speaking Discretion.

The Four Zones of Speaking Discretion are:

  1. Public
  2. Social
  3. Personal
  4. Intimate

Each zone has an appropriately accompanying range of speaking volume. Knowing how to apply each range effectively is a key to commanding your speaking effectiveness and enjoying the success it brings.

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Let’s briefly look at each zone.


  • 12 feet or more from you and your listener.
  • Volume range 8 – 10
    10 is the maximum. (Sorry, no room for a Spinal Tap “11” here).

Think open forum. Cheerleaders use this voice to excite the crowd, police to issue a warning, and doctors to issue an emergency command. When people are on their mobile phones they use this volume level because they cannot see the other person. This leads their brain to processes their target as being more than 12 feet away. The fact is, with a mobile phone, assuming your recipient has the phone to their ear, you are usually less than 12 inches away (Intimate Zone)


  • 4 feet to 12 feet in range from the speaker to the receiver.
  • Volume range 5 – 7

This is your typical board room or conference room setting. Your voice needs to be loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to be overpowering. (Unless that is the result you intend to get.)


  • 18 inches to 4 feet.
  • Volume range 2– 4

This is the space usually observed between two to four people in a closely held conversation. Confidential communication can freely be exchanged without fear of discovery by others. My group in the bread café, in this zone, were speaking with a volume between 8 and 9.


  • 0 – 18 inches
  • Volume range .25 – 1.75

This is the space that should be saved for the most private information. The Godfather new this. He would have his listener lean in real close and whisper his wishes in their ear. Everyone always got the message and meaning from the Godfather. They may have not been sweet nothings, but the whispers were effective and successful. Try to imagine The Godfather sitting in his favorite eatery communicating delicate “business” to his consigliore on his cell phone with a public voice. The authorities would have loved that – a lot.


Now that you know how to safely avoid violating the safety zones of speaking discretion, use this information to protect yourself as a speaker and leader. Every speaking opportunity has the appropriate zone of information and accompanying voice volume. Using these effectively will contribute to your confidence and authority as both a leader and speaker.

As always, please feel free to share this post with a friend or colleague. Also, please share your comments on this post or suggestions in the comments section below.

To Your Speaking Success.
The Speech Wiz