3 ways to get your point across while wearing a mask – tips from an award-winning speech coach

Distancing doesn't have to mean distant.

A speech coach explains how to express yourself even while wearing a mask.
Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash
You wear your mask, keep six feet between yourself and others and are committed to safety.

But the measures that help minimize your risk of COVID-19 can also have an impact on your interactions with others.

As you stroll the aisle of a supermarket, you approach someone who looks familiar. To avoid an awkward exchange, you flash them a friendly smile. It's not until you pass you remember: Your smile was hidden behind a mask. Unloading your groceries at home, you see your neighbor. You excitedly ask her how she is, but when she doesn't respond, you worry your mask has muffled your voice.

As the head coach for Mississippi State University's Speech and Debate Team, my job is to teach effective communication. Without question, masks have disrupted social interactions. But communication has many components. You can adjust and enhance your communication by focusing on some of the other pieces that aren't hidden behind a mask.

The face

Facial expressions are the primary way people exhibit emotion and decipher the feelings of others. Happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and surprise can be communicated through facial expressions alone. But when part of the face is masked, it becomes more difficult to recognize these cues.

If you cannot read someone else's emotional state, your ability to empathize with them may be compromised. Likewise, if your own mask is hiding your emotional state, others may not be able to empathize with you. Wearing a mask can also make you feel more distracted and self-conscious, further weakening your connection to others.

Fortunately, you can regain some control over communication by working with what you have left – the eyes. If you want to increase understanding with a masked individual, you should look them in the eyes – which may be easier said than done. Eye contact triggers self-consciousness, consumes extra brain power and becomes uncomfortable after only three seconds. But bear in mind, eye contact can also make you appear more intelligent and trustworthy.

Body language

You might be surprised how much information is conveyed by the body itself.

For instance, when someone is happy, they stand up straighter and lift their head; when they are sad, they slouch and drop their head; and when they are angry, their whole body tenses up. Learning how people use their bodies to convey emotion may help reduce the uncertainty you feel when communicating with someone in a mask.

Become aware of your own body language, too. When engaged in a conversation, you can appear more attentive by turning your body toward the individual, leaning in or nodding. To let another person know you want to start speaking, straighten your posture, hold up your index finger or nod more frequently. Finally, be aware that imitating the posture of another person can increase how much they like you and even agree with you.

The voice

Don't forget the impact of your voice. It's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Along with the actual words, you also use volume, tone, pauses and fillers to convey your message. For instance, a lower-pitched whisper may denote sadness or insecurity, whereas a higher-pitched shout could show anger or intensity.

Try this – say the phrase "I didn't see you there" as if you were scared. Now pretend you are happy. Now confused. Chances are, anyone listening to you could easily identify your emotions without even seeing you. While studies show that masks do not significantly alter your voice, you may feel that your speech gets muffled when wearing a mask.

If you feel the need to speak louder, just be aware that raising your voice can alter the message you are trying to send. Changing the tone of your voice can change the whole conversation, so instead of increasing volume, try improving enunciation.

Putting it all together

While masks may make conversations feel more daunting, you are equipped to communicate, even with part of your face concealed.

Before your next interaction with a friend, think of ways to improve your connection. Pull your hair back so they can see your eyes clearly and find a quiet place to talk. Use your body and voice to convey the emotions you fear your mask might hide. Maybe most importantly, don't expect it to go perfectly. Just like any conversation, mistakes will be made.

When someone can't understand you, try rephrasing your statement, saying it a bit more slowly and enunciating more. If you are struggling to understand someone else, try to ask close-ended questions, like "Do you want to go to the park?" instead of open-ended ones, like "Where do you want to go?"

By all means, continue the proper measures to keep yourself safe, but don't neglect your relationships as a consequence. Social distance doesn't have to mean socially distant.The Conversation

Cheryl Chambers, Instructor of Communication and Head Coach, MSU Speech & Debate Team, Mississippi State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).

Credit: Jenny – Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less

FOSTA-SESTA: Have controversial sex trafficking acts done more harm than good?

The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.

Has FOSTA-SESTA really lived up to it's promise of protecting sex trafficking victims - or has it made them easier to target?

Credit: troyanphoto on Adobe Stock
Politics & Current Affairs
  • SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. They were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018.
  • The implementation of this law in America has left an international impact, as websites attempt to protect themselves from liability by closing down the sections of their sites that sex workers use to arrange safe meetings with clientele.
  • While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
Keep reading Show less
Videos

What is the ‘self’? The 3 layers of your identity.

Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast