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Working Around the Disadvantages of Masks at Meetings

Communication quality can be diminished along with trust in the messages being delivered. But there are ways to remedy the downsides to speaking through a mask.

The good news is that more meetings and events are happening now than at any time in the past 19 months, thanks to waning Covid infection rates and a combination of safety precautions that often includes requiring participants to wear masks while indoors.

On the downside, those masks are not conducive to networking. Not only
is “lip-reading a critical means of understanding that gets lost when participants wear masks while speaking,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, but masks also hide facial expressions that help with understanding.

What’s more, those expressions serve to build trust in the speaker and the message—a critical component for the effectiveness of any business event. “Many studies suggest that the upper and lower halves of the face work together to communicate emotion. If that link is broken, then humans struggle to comprehend each other,” according to an article in Greater Good magazine. Further, “other research suggests that our brains develop feelings about someone as our recognition of them grows.” In fact, the article cited one study that found that at least five percent fewer people trusted advice given by someone wearing a mask than by an unmasked person.

Fortunately, the Greater Good article provides advice from scientists on how to make up for the diminished quality of communication between masked people. The strategies involve the use of one’s voice, eyes, hands, and body movements to reinforce the messages being delivered.

Lastly, this MeetingsNet article details several ways a meeting host can build trust among the audience regardless of whether attendees must wear masks.

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