Whether you're excited to be around people again or dreading it, here’s how verbal confidence techniques can make all the difference
As we speed along to June 21 and the grand unlocking, the prospect of being around people again becomes real, very real and some of you may be finding the reality of it strangely daunting. What will we say to each other once we’re back in the office/workplace? We’ve got so used to living in our little bubble, communicating intermittently, often digitally, with a small circle of friends and family… so inevitably there’s a certain amount of social anxiety.
Will we clam up? Or babble incoherently? Will we be unfiltered, or over filtered in terms of what we say? How will we cope with having to be ‘on’ all the time? Will we feel exhausted after half an hour in the company of other people and want to crawl back to the safety of home?
You’re not alone, office life can be daunting
If your job or studies are soon to involve being around other people again, you may have mixed feelings. Research from Microsoft says almost two-thirds of the more than 31,000 full-time employed or self-employed workers polled said that they were “craving” (yes, craving) more in-person time with their teams. Yet the enthusiasm is tempered with apprehension. Shermeena Rabbi, speech therapist, has seen an increase in adults wanting help with building their verbal confidence so they can cope with the demands of being around people all day IRL. The challenge of conducting team meetings, pitches and presentations can be especially daunting.
“On top of the apprehension around commuting and having to talk to people all day when we’ve been used to being alone, there’s also the anxiety about the communication demands of work,” says Rabbi. “But the fact is these are simply social skills we develop between the ages of zero to seven, so they’re innately built in. You can’t lose them. It’s the confidence around using them appropriately that’s been impacted and in some cases this has turned into social anxiety, affecting people’s verbal skills.”
Here Shermeena advises on how can we get our verbal confidence back and feel comfortable whether we’re catching up with colleagues, running a meeting or doing a presentation.
1. The Zoom effect
Zoom talk is not normal and this has made the flow of our speech disjointed. “There are lots of pauses when you talk on a screen, and you have to take it in turns to speak in a way that’s not naturalistic, so you may need a bit of time to adapt to the normal flow of real-life face to face communication,” says Rabbi. This means you may want to keep the conversation with colleagues short – or may even clam up. Alternatively you may talk very fast and incoherently while you get used to the normal exchange of conversation. “Just give it time, pace yourself and this will start to feel normal again soon.”
When we communicate online we have time to prepare, because we know what we’re meeting for. But if you’re meeting with your manager or colleagues in the office, those spontaneous conversations might feel a bit of a strain at first. “We’ve been living in our heads far more over the last few months, so suddenly having to think on our feet and respond spontaneously may feel like too much pressure, which could result in some stammering-like behaviour, repetition of sounds and words, lack of clarity and loss of fluency. Keep your breathing slow when talking so you’ve got enough air to get the words out, which will slow you down and help you enunciate better,” says Shermeena.
3. Catch your breath
Strengthening your verbal output means thinking about your pace – which means breathing right. “Use diaphragmatic breathing so you can converse at a good and understandable pace, without rushing through and stumbling on your words,” advises Rabbi. “And use strategic pauses when you’re talking so you can think about what you’re saying and avoid using ‘filler words’ like umm and err,” she adds.
4. Warm-ups and warm down
Your vocal cords may be unused to three hour meetings nowadays, so do some vocal warm-ups to help you project your voice throughout the day. Drink lots of water to keep the throat moist and give yourself plenty of rest once you get home. Says Shermeena: “Don’t be surprised if you’re extra-tired in the first few weeks. People are already finding socialising exhausting – even a trip to the pub with a few friends can be a little overwhelming after months of being cooped up – so add work to the mix and you’re going to need plenty of down time.”
* Find out more about speech therapist Sharmeena Rabbi at Unlocking Language