Who’s Behind that Face Mask 6 Feet Away?

How to use your voice to show who you are

We all now live in the strange time of social distancing. We position ourselves far apart from each other and masks cover half of our faces. The question is, how can we have deeper, meaningful face-to-face conversations from afar and without seeing most of each others’ faces? And can our voices be transmitted and received accurately through barriers of cloth? It seems that the usual guidelines for effective verbal communication no longer apply.

In my work as a speech pathologist and a speech trainer for accented English-speaking individuals, I’ve used a technique that can help you use your voice to reach across the divide to be heard and understood in life as it is today. The technique is called Voice Projection. This does not mean speaking louder; no one likes to be yelled at. Instead, it refers to speaking from deep down inside of you, at the level of your diaphragm.  All you have to do is take a deeper breath so you use the full capacity of your lungs as you speak. This engages your diaphragm, which is the large flat muscle located between your lungs and your abdomen. It helps expand and contract the lungs so inhaling and exhaling air (and life itself) are possible. Open you mouth a little wider than you usually do, take a full breath and shoot your voice out of your mouth from deep down inside of you as if shooting an arrow from a bow.

Here is what I say to my clients:  Plant you feet firmly on the ground to feel balanced and centered. Picture your body as the strong, stable bow full of potential energy. Imagine your voice as the arrow that can shoot across space. Aim your voice-arrow at a target across the room and say, “My name is _____ to that target. Did a person at that target receive your message, or did your voice-arrow fall down before it reached its target? Aim another short message to another target around the room. Make sure that someone at that target received your message, too. Repeat this and you feel the power of your voice intensify. These messages can travel across space and pass through any barrier.

You can produce a stronger and more resonant voice quality with little effort or strain because it’s supported by your deeper, fuller breath. You’ll present a better visual image by engaging more of your physical body as well as the energy of your inner self as you speak. You’ll actually stand up straighter, which makes you look and sound more confident.

Social distancing and wearing facial masks do not have to impair our ability to have clear and  meaningful communication with those around us. So take some deep breaths, open your mouth and tell the world who you truly are.