A speech coach’s top tips on what to do when you’re a nervous mess

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  • If you dread Zoom meetings and struggle in job interviews, speech and language therapist Shermeena Rabbi’s expert advice is exactly what you need

    Now much of our professional lives is conducted via technology, the need to communicate clearly has never been greater. And that’s where a speech coach’s top tips can help you. Being put on the spot on a Zoom call can cause the most confident of us to start talking too fast or too high, stammering or mumbling. While there are, of course,  sometimes physiological factors, fumbled speech is commonly connected to simple nerves and anxiety.

    Speech coach’s top tips 

    ‘If you’re struggling to communicate clearly, this may have worsened during lockdown,’ says speech and language therapist Shermeena Rabbi. ‘A combination of lack of direct communication with people, coupled with a little social anxiety has left many with seemingly insurmountable challenges when communicating via Zoom, Skype and conference calls.’

    And Rabbi should know. She’s the director of speech and language consultancy Unlocking Language, whose many clients include stockbrokers, lawyers and bankers. They come looking for a speech coach’s top tips because in a competitive job market the struggle to get your voice heard can be a major problem.

    speech coach's top tips

    Shermeena Rabbi, director of speech and language consultancy Unlocking Language

    ‘If you find your voice and speech skills are letting you down during job interviews, presentations and online meetings, most problems can be resolved,’ says Rabbi. ‘Get your tone, pace, enunciation, pauses and breath right and you’ll deliver in a far more clear and confident way.’

    Speech coach’s top tips for virtual job interviews 

    1. Vocal fatigue

    Does your voice let you down half-through a job interview? We speak louder on Zoom because it’s not a natural way to speak, requiring more vocal effort to project the voice. ‘Start the day with a warm glass of water with a little ginger or lemon. Drink plenty of water to keep the throat moist throughout the day. And steam your throat by putting a towel over head. Make sure you’re inhaling steam to moisten the complex tiny muscles in your mouth and throat. This will improve your voice,’ says Rabbi.

    2. Lack of clarity

    Zoom interviews can be stilted and and nerves affect our speech. ‘Anxiety causes tension in the shoulder muscles, the diaphragm, throat and face. This affects your vocal quality, making your voice rough and tremulous,’ explains Rabbi.  To release tension before an interview do some diaphragmatic breathing (see below). Keeping your breathing slow during an interview will slow your speech down. ‘You can end up stammering or mumbling as you don’t have enough air to get your point across,’ she says. And make sure you always enunciate. ‘Sometimes when talking we don’t open the mouth properly and this reduces clarity, especially when a key word gets lost in the middle of a sentence.’

    Speech coach’s top tips when communicating with colleagues

    1. Voice projection

    Apart from diaphragmatic breathing and looking after vocal muscles, good posture is crucial. This will help to get your voice to project on video calls throughout the working day. ‘Posture is affected by sitting for hours at a time. This impacts on both your breathing and voice,’ says Rabbi. ‘Make sure you have a comfortable chair for good posture and a cushion to support your lower back. Take frequent breaks and walk around to give your spine and neck a break.’

    2. Tone of voice

    Your voice ought to demonstrate your confidence and ability to do your job and that means having the right tone. ‘In some situations a high voice can be perceived negatively, but equally a low tone of voice won’t convince an audience,’ says Rabbi. Think about your profession and how to bring your personality and passion into your voice. ‘Record yourself during a work virtual chat. Become aware of what your voice is like, then practice speaking in a more confident tone.’

    Improve your speech with these vocal exercises

    1. The vocal straw 

    While humming, blow bubbles through a straw in a glass of water. Make sure the straw is just below the surface. This daily exercise minimises vocal strain and optimises normal vocal physiology.

    2. The lip buzz warm-up 

    The goal is to make a sound like a motorboat by making your lips vibrate as you blow air through your mouth and nose. Do this just before a job interview.

    3. The humming exercise 

    Close your mouth and start with a low hum, gradually building up to a loud hum with a wide open ‘mah’ sound. Repeat this a few times.

    4. And finally, try diaphragmatic breathing 

    Place your hand on your tummy just below your ribs. Move your tummy in and out by gently pushing it out against your hand and then gently pulling it back in. Keeping your hand on your tummy, push it out against your hand and take a small breath in through the mouth. Now slowly pull your tummy in and let the air out gently through the mouth.

    * You can find Shermeena Rabbi for private speech and language therapy sessions at unlockinglanguage.co.uk or call 0207 536 9299 or email info@unlockinglanguage.co.uk 

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