Five Tips for Presenting When You’re Wearing a Mask

It’s not ideal, but you can still speak effectively to an audience while wearing a face covering by projecting, using more than your voice to communicate, and taking advantage of new technology.

At meetings in large spaces or with a designated stage, event speakers might have the luxury of taking off their face coverings when they’re presenting. But depending on the space, the speaker, and the public health situation, presenters might need to pull off an engaging talk with only half of their faces visible. It’s possible—but it’s not easy. There’s also the issue of accessibility, as people with hearing impairments can’t rely on lip reading to follow along.

Consider these tips to present effectively with a mask on and remain inclusive to all members of your audience.

Get Loud!

A mask will naturally muffle your voice, and your audience won’t be able to read your lips to better understand you, which means that projecting your voice is critical. When presenting with a mask on, remember to enunciate and speak a little louder than you normally would. This will probably feel unnatural at first, but your audience will thank you.

However, projecting is easier said than done. The Voice and Swallow Mechanics Lab at the University of Cincinnati suggests keeping your muscles relaxed—your ears should be over your shoulders—breathing deeply, and over-enunciating by opening your mouth wider and moving your mouth more when speaking, among other tips for communicating more clearly with a mask on. Of course, a simple solution that’s easy on the vocal cords is to use a microphone when presenting.

But Don’t Shout

Projecting is one thing; shouting is another. If you’re straining your voice, hearing your own voice as unnatural, and not using your diaphragm, you’re probably shouting. Consider what theater teachers have to say about the difference: “Projection has a depth to the sound. It tends to have a slightly deeper pitch and a rounder, more complex sound. Yelling sounds flat with a higher pitch.”

Take Advantage of Speech-to-Text Technology

Using an app that translates speech into text in real time allows people who are struggling to understand you, including audience members who have hearing loss, to follow along.

“The accuracy of speech-to-text apps has gotten very, very good,” said UNC Health audiologist Patricia Johnson, in an interview for UNC Health Talk. “So if you are hearing-impaired or you’re struggling hearing someone, have them speak into your phone, and you can then read what they’re saying on the screen.”

Use More Than Your Voice

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends using your hands and your body language to communicate while speaking, as it can help make up for visual cues that the audience is missing, such as facial expressions. You should also face your audience directly, keep your eyes on the audience, and make sure nothing is blocking the audience’s view of you.

Your environment is another thing to consider. If you can help it, set up in a space with little background noise, and ask audience members who are talking during your presentation to quiet down and save any comments or questions for when the floor is open.

Ask for Feedback

A simple way to make sure you’re being heard is to ask your audience whether they have understood you so far. Every so often, pause your presentation to check in with your audience and ask them if they’re following along, whether you should repeat anything, and whether there’s something you could do to communicate more clearly in the moment.

(Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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