3 ways to improve communication while wearing a mask, from a top speech coach

Robert Sollery wears his face mask on May 13 in Darlaston, West Midlands, United Kingdom.

The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

(CNN)You wear your mask, keep 6 feet between yourself and others and are committed to safety. But the measures that help minimize your risk of Covid-19 can also have an impact on your interactions with others.

As you stroll the aisle of a supermarket, you approach someone who looks familiar. To avoid an awkward exchange, you flash them a friendly smile. It's not until you pass you remember: Your smile was hidden behind a mask. Unloading your groceries at home, you see your neighbor. You excitedly ask her how she is, but when she doesn't respond, you worry your mask has muffled your voice.
As the head coach for Mississippi State University's Speech and Debate Team, my job is to teach effective communication. Without question, masks have disrupted social interactions. But communication has many components. You can adjust and enhance your communication by focusing on some of the other pieces that aren't hidden behind a mask.

    The face isn't totally covered

    Women wearing protective masks speak on the street in New York City on April 5.
    Facial expressions are the primary way people exhibit emotion and decipher the feelings of others. Happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and surprise can be communicated through facial expressions alone. But when part of the face is masked, it becomes more difficult to recognize these cues.
    If you cannot read someone else's emotional state, your ability to empathize with them may be compromised. Likewise, if your own mask is hiding your emotional state, others may not be able to empathize with you. Wearing a mask can also make you feel more distracted and self-conscious, further weakening your connection to others.
    Fortunately, you can regain some control over communication by working with what you have left -- the eyes. If you want to increase understanding with a masked individual, you should look them in the eyes, which may be easier said than done. Eye contact triggers self-consciousness, consumes extra brain power and becomes uncomfortable after only three seconds. But bear in mind, eye contact can also make you appear more intelligent and trustworthy.

    We communicate through body language

    You might be surprised how much information is conveyed by the body itself.
    For instance, when someone is happy, they stand up straighter and lift their head; when they are sad, they slouch and drop their head; and when they are angry, their whole body tenses up. Learning how people use their bodies to convey emotion may help reduce the uncertainty you feel when communicating with someone in a mask.
    Become aware of your own body language, too. When engaged in a conversation, you can appear more attentive by turning your body toward the individual, leaning in or nodding. To let another person know you want to start speaking, straighten your posture, hold up your index finger or nod more frequently. Finally, be aware that imitating the posture of another person can increase how much they like you and even agree with you.

    The impact of your voice

    Passengers wear protective face masks while talking in Brazil's São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport on March 15.
    Don't forget the impact of your voice. It's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Along with the actual words, you also use volume, tone, pauses and fillers to convey your message. For