Aanchal is a social entrepreneur, actor, director and facilitator working at the intersection of gender, theatre, and communication. Over the past 6 years, Aanchal’s engagements in the performance and communications sector have led her to work with schools, universities, organizations and community groups. She has trained over 3000 participants in effective communication skills. She is the founder of Thought Project a Mumbai based organization that uses tools of applied theatre, to design curriculum and facilitate sessions on Acting, Public Speaking, Communication Skills, Social-Emotional Learning and Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
We had the lovely opportunity of speaking with Aanchal over a video call recently, while the conversation started on lighter notes, talking about what Zymrat, and what Aanchal is upto in her life, we took a serious turn and ended up asking questions about practices that can empower one’s communication abilities, and that left us thinking about a lot of things. We have tried to cover our conversation through a few questions and answers here. We are hoping that you would find a lot of value in it. Here it goes:
Why do we sometimes become nervous or anxious while putting a thought across?
Whenever we face something challenging, our body prepares by boosting adrenaline production. Almost instantly, our heart begins to beat faster, blood pressure rises, palms get sweaty and breathing quickens. This feeling is what we call nervousness.
Putting out thoughts can be very challenging for many of us, considering how limited spaces for expression are. Despite being able to verbally communicate our thoughts, we find that it does not create the desired strong impact on the listeners. This is because our speech lacks clarity and our non-verbal communication lacks efficacy.
What are some of the most common speech disorders and what causes them?
Stammering, stuttering, slurred speech, lisping, articulation disorders, are some of the common speech and language disorders. They manifest in repeating or prolonging sounds, distorting sounds, having difficulty pronouncing words correctly, struggling to say the correct word or sound, speaking very softly among others.
There are a wide number of factors that cause them - brain damage due to a stroke or head injury, muscle weakness, damaged vocal cords, a degenerative disease, dementia, cancer that affects the mouth or throat, autism, among others.
Please note that neither Aanchal or team members at Zymrat are medical professionals. But since Aanchal works with many individuals who go through the ups and downs of these disorders, we are just highlighting her learnings here.
Can one do something to improve the interpersonal and public speaking skills?
Absolutely. There is a very useful process to help improve your speaking skills.
1) The simplest way to improve the clarity of your speech is to make sure your mouth is open wide enough for the sound to come out clearly.
2) The focus then moves to enunciation exercises that help you differentiate your vowel sounds and make the beginning and end of each word distinct and crisp.
3) Increasing the volume of your speech not only ensures the audience will hear you but also naturally slows your speech and improves your articulation.
4) Once we have these, it is essential to bring colour to your speech, this is done by NOT speaking in a monotone. One must infuse rising and falling pitch in their sentences: Up at the end of a question, down at the end of a statement.
5) To help work on these aspects, it is crucial to improve your breathing capacity and control, provide support for your voice, and enable you to speak more clearly over a broad vocal range.
Will improved communication skills lead to better self-confidence?
One of the biggest factors contributing to building self confidence is positive validation from those around you. When we consistently work on our communication skills, and that is recognized, by self and others, one can feel a certain rise in confidence.
What does a vocal workout comprise of?
Vocal workout refers to exercises done to warm up all the body parts that are involved to produce sound - your jaws, tongue, nose, throat, diaphragm, and lungs. There are three categories -
Nasal - Focuses on correct and sustained breathing to support vocal chords
Muscular - Focuses on flexibility of the jaw that contributes to fluid speech
Verbal - focuses on articulation issues with specific alphabets and/or sounds
Doing a vocal workout helps reduce common issues like dry throat, inarticulate, running out of breath and incoherence.
Is it too tedious to follow vocal workouts? Is it too late?
No and No! Initially it may seem like a chore, and out of your comfort zone. However, when practised regularly, they will become so habitual and will not take much time. The exercises we prescribe, focus on long term change and can be done within 10 minutes.
Do vocal workouts need to be done every day?
Yes. Everyday and every time you have to speak to an audience. When we are nervous in public speaking environments, our body's automatic response is to cause the throat to dry up, jaw muscles to stiffen up. Vocal exercises will help you hydrate, and make your muscles more flexible.
Do you think inclusion of communication skills in our education system can prove to be a milestone in the all round development?
I feel like so many of us have such impactful ideas, but find it difficult to communicate them. In addition to our focus on cognitive development, we align our education system to achieve effective expression among students. Our cognitive development helps improve our VERBAL communication, which is essentially WHAT we say. However, HOW we say it, or our NON-VERBAL communication does not receive the same focus. An approach that focuses on both, simultaneously will truly help us take our learnings further, and create meaningful work.
Isn’t it amazing how little is required to be done for a larger impact? We may be secretly battling with such issues but it is essential that we take up the onus to set it right. Now is never late and the moment we fix up our minds to do it, a phenomenal change is just round the corner.