Speak to Your Pupils With Ease
6 January 2014
Serena Greenslade’s tips on effective communication in class
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all dance teachers had to worry about was teaching dance? Unfortunately, you also have to talk, and talk a lot. You have to speak to parents, children, schools, examiners and adult learners, to name but a few. Although we can often communicate efficiently by phone and email, if you’re on a dance floor, your voice is all you’ve got. Here are some tips on how to use your voice most effectively.
Teaching as Performance
Every time you go to work you are performing. You have to share your experience and knowledge with your pupils and you mustn’t let them become bored. Your voice must keep their interest.
The way you talk influences the way other people think of you and therefore, how they react to you. If you are unsure of your own communication skills, listeners will assume (wrongly) that you are also unsure of your dance and your teaching. This doesn’t mean that all successful dance instructors are extroverts who love to talk, it just means that they know how to get the best from their voice when they need to.
To be a good communicator, you must be as good at listening as you are at speaking. Listen to what your pupils are saying – it makes it easier to respond. You can’t give an intelligent answer if you don’t listen to the question.
You need to be able to share your expertise with your students, and the way in which you use your voice will help you. You need to have a variety of power, pace and pitch in your voice in order to sound interesting.
A slow monotonous voice will not motivate anyone. If you expect your dancers to perform with enthusiasm and energy, you must sound excited yourself. An important part of expressive speech is the use of your face. Children often find it difficult to tell from our words alone if we are serious, happy or angry. Consequently they need to be able to see your facial expression.
When you’re talking to a child, make sure that it is the child you are talking to. This may seem obvious but the sound needs to be directed at them, not over their heads or down at the ground.
“To be a good communicator, you must be as good at listening as you are at speaking”
Open your mouth to let the sound out – too many people try to talk with a closed mouth – and remember that the further away your dancers are, the more you will have to open it. To practice this you will need a mirror. We all imagine that we open our mouth a lot wider than we actually do. Try saying the following sentence out loud: Jive is a lively dance.
For every ‘eye’ sound (as in Jive and lively) your mouth should be open wide enough to put three fingers vertically in your mouth! This is only applicable during practice – during everyday speech you should be able to put two fingers vertically in your mouth.
Opening your mouth will also slow your speech down and one of the main criticisms of most people’s speech is that it is too fast. Everyone should pause after each new thought. After each new instruction for a step, you need to pause to let the learner take in what you have explained. You need to give the learner time to react; this continuous feedback will allow you to assess if they understand what you have just explained.
Power to be Heard
Having a powerful voice means don’t need to shout; you need to be heard. Teachers who have quiet, weak voices give the impression that they don’t want to be noticed and appear to think that what they have to say is of little consequence. A powerful voice can be achieved by practising humming. Humming exercises the resonators. Try saying the following sentence and hold all the ‘m’ sounds as humming: “My mummy made me dance the samba,” should sound like, “Mmmmmmy mmmmummmy mmmade mmme dance the sammmmba.”
Find the Right Pitch
Most nervous people speak with a high-pitched voice, as do angry people, so if you want to come across as confident and calm, lower the pitch a little. However, you still need to sound enthusiastic, so you will need to change the pitch, power and pace of important words and phrases.
If you were to say, “that was a fantastic move,” you would want the word ‘fantastic’ to stand out so that the learner feels as though they have achieved something.
Talking – and Listening – to Parents
If you teach children, you will have to talk to parents and this is not always as easy as it could be. If you don’t want the parents to stay and watch, make it clear before the first lesson. However distracting some parents might be, listen to them when they are talking to you. Acknowledge what the parents are saying by nodding and smiling, make sure that you’re not just waiting for them to pause so that you can jump in with your ideas. Look at the parents and don’t turn away while you are listening; it gives a ‘don’t care’ impression. You might be able to listen and work at the same time, but it looks impolite. When you do answer, try to avoid using too much jargon; you may want to sound professional, but if they don’t understand you they’ll only ask more questions.
Again, it may sound obvious, but although you are in a pupil/teacher situation, don’t treat the adults in the same way as you do the children. Treat them as your equal and remember that, unlike some of the children, adults who start later in life do not expect to become professional dancers. They are there for fun, exercise and companionship. These students are much more likely to engage in conversation and are likely to be much more critical of you, so make sure you explain carefully and speak clearly.
Talking Over Music
Unlike most other teachers, you will sometimes have to speak over music. This means your speech has to be particularly clear. Ends of words are most important, words like ‘point’, ‘feet’ and ‘head’ need to have the final consonant sounded by letting your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. The ‘l’ in words like ‘Ballroom’ and ‘heel’ also need to be heard. The ‘ing’ on the ends of words must not be shortened to ‘in’.
If music is playing and you are not standing near to your pupil, remember to open your mouth wider to let the sound out and direct the words towards your pupil.
Two Top Tips for Clear Speech
If you have a habit of saying ‘um’, ‘like’ or ‘okay’ and you can’t seem to stop saying it, try thinking it instead. This will make your speech sound more clear and make you sound less indecisive.
Exercise your lips and tongue just as you would any other part of your body. The simplest and easiest way is to make funny faces.
The best way to become a good communicator is to enjoy yourself. You know how to dance, you’ve had excellent teacher training so now go and share your experiences.
Serena Greenslade is a qualified and experienced elocution teacher. She qualified in Speech Training in 1994 and has been helping adults and children to speak clearly and confidently ever since. Her clients have included the NHS, Bournemouth University, and a wide range of medical professionals, managing directors, dance teachers and sports coaches, among many others.