Think back to your last work team meeting, client presentation, job interview, or networking session. Chances are that it took place over Zoom, Teams, or another video conferencing platform. A byproduct of the pandemic, this technology and, more broadly, remote work are certainly here to stay, even as the world slowly moves back toward in-person work.
As a professional, presenting and participating over video conference may feel especially difficult. Ever wondered why?
Many factors contribute to the added friction: audio issues, limited opportunities to pair your speech with gestures and body language, and a lack of interaction and response from your audience are just a few of these factors.
For non-native English speakers in particular, the video conference setting can exacerbate miscommunication. Accents and pronunciation issues can be harder to address in the moment, which may leave your audience unsure of what you've said.
Accent and speech coach Melanie Fox shares that:
"Those who are non-native speakers often report that they feel more easily understood in person, and that web-meetings seem to intensify existing barriers to communication. Since clarity of your sound is key, you want a strategy to help you minimize potential issues that could derail the delivery of your message or obstruct your ability to hear the meeting."
Here's the good news: there are several steps you can take to ensure you sound clear and confident over Zoom. We break them down below.
Can You See Me?
- Use a physical background (a plain wall, a professional office setting, or a pop-up, collapsible backdrop as opposed to a virtual one, which could make you look blurry or distort your image).
- Make sure your face is illuminated – if the light is coming from a source in back of you, your image may be distorted or look like your face is in a shadow. Purchase a small desk lamp if need be!
- If your computer has a decent camera, you might be good to go, but you can also add an external camera to your computer for additional clarity.
- As an ESL professional, Why Should I Care Extra? Reading lips is part of a listener’s decoding strategy. Without seeing your lips, the “s,” “f,” and voiceless “th” sounds may sound very similar, especially over the phone or web-meeting. Seeing your lower lip meet your top teeth tips me off that you are making the “f” sound as opposed to the other two.
Can You Hear Me?
- Make sure you have a headset to help you cut down on background noise and avoid an echo. A pair of earbuds will do just fine. (And, an old-school wired one might even be more reliable than its slick wireless cousin).
- If you want to enhance your audio, you might consider buying an extra microphone. Amazon and B&H offer tons of options (and read the reviews).
- As an L2 Learner, Why Should I Care Extra? Making sure you can clearly hear the other speakers is imperative. As an L2 learner myself, it pains me if I need to ask native speakers to repeat or even explain an utterance in a language in which I feel “fluent.”
Can You Understand Me Clearly?
- Speak slowly to give you more time to articulate your sounds. Remember, the “th” sounds require the tongue jutting out between the teeth. In a more Standard American English, you’ll want to make sure you’re not dropping or devoicing sounds in the “coda”. English can feel kind of “clunky” compared to many other languages, because we have consonant clusters and also because we have voiced sounds (stops/plosives and fricatives) positioned at the end of a syllable—which is not a very popular thing for a language to do. Think of the word “worlds” – lots of sounds come after that vowel—and you will need to use your voice (vibrate your vocal cords) in addition to your air the whole way through.
- Don’t shortchange your mouth movements in the interest of speed – in this case, speed is typically the enemy. Take your time – your clarity will help you build confidence. Sounding thoughtful (slower and with pauses) rather than rushed (fast with little pausing) will help your audience engage with you.
- Practice on BoldVoice! The app will give you an expert-prepared curriculum of video lessons that provide a comprehensive, in-depth training of American English pronunciation, and immediate feedback on how you sound.
Do I Sound Confident?
- Present with poise. To do so, it’s important you look at the camera (rather than your notes). Glance at audience members’ reactions when possible, but try to keep your eyes in line with the camera lens.
- Practice like you mean it! Reading something under your breath does not do a good job at approximating the actual speech act. I would prepare by doing something that may make you cringe—but is well worth it: launch your own web-meet sessions and record yourself (most of the big platforms have a recording feature). That’s right, once you have your content planned, simulate that presentation. Watch it back, tweak and retry until you’re satisfied with the output.
- As an L2 Learner, Why Should I Care Extra? Making sure you can clearly communicate while limited by the 2D space of a webinar is the other piece of the puzzle. And the goal isn’t just the clarity, it’s the freedom and confidence your clear speech will provide for you.
For native and non-native speakers alike, video presentations can bring up anxieties, but hopefully these tips can help you gain an extra competitive edge.
At BoldVoice, we can't wait to help you achieve your clearest and most confident voice. Our lessons on pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and public speaking from Hollywood accent coaches will get you results in no time.
Here’s to your next virtual presentation – let it be stellar!