If you are a music therapist, you know the feeling – you’re on an airplane or in an elevator when someone asks you what you do for a living. The 30 seconds that follow have the potential to forever shape that individual’s understanding and view of the vast world of music therapy. No pressure!
The vital importance of being an effective communicator and speaker cannot be over stated. Whether your field is music therapy, marketing, or dog sitting, you have the power to help others understand the value and efficacy of your work. So much about an individual brand or company is communicated in the initial, first-impression conversation and it’s crucial that you are prepared.
Recently in symposium, we discussed the (slightly overwhelming) topic of public speaking/presenting/communicating effectively. Here are some helpful take aways if you’re looking to boost your ability to persuade, engage, and win-over others.
- Know your audience! Before you are able to effectively “sell” anything (whether services, an idea, a suggestion) to anyone, you first have to understand why it matters to them. If you were speaking to a woman who has an 85-year-old mother with Dementia, do you think you would describe music therapy differently than if it were a man with a 4-year-old son with Autism? Knowing your audience is so important to understanding how to effectively communicate with a variety of people. When beginning a conversation, practice asking quick questions to get to know the person, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking for in music therapy (or any other topic/field you may be discussing).
- Know your material. If you are educated, knowledgeable and well-rounded in your area of expertise, you are already set up for success to be an amazing communicator! Remember, you are the expert. Own what you say. Use confident language like “we do” and “we are”, and be prepared to answer a variety of questions that might arise. If you truly know your material, whether it is a 60-minute presentation, or a quick exchange in line at the grocery story – it will make all the difference in your confidence and will impact the other person’s quickly-forming opinion of you and of the field.
- Focus on the message, not on yourself. This is key! As soon as we stop worrying about what the audience/other person is thinking of us, or how our voice sounds, or what our hair looks like, etc. etc., our message immediately becomes more impactful! Focus on exactly what you want to communicate and on the power of your message.
For more helpful tips, visit Toastmasters.org. They have a variety of free resources, from articles and videos to podcasts and conventions. Some of the above tips were drawn from the following video:
And remember, haaaaave fun with it!
Listening – To concentrate on hearing something
Listening is a term I learned to become very familiar with while studying for my music degree in my undergrad. Up to this point, I had thought of listening as being a very simple action; you’re either or you’re not. I did not think of listening as being a skill that can be worked on, practiced, and developed to a higher level, like many other aspects of music performance. It was a wild experience to see how much more some of my peers could get out of listening to someone play Ride of the Valkyries on tuba than I could. These classmates could pick out and analyze parts of the music that I didn’t even know were happening, because listening was a skill they have been practicing and developing for years already.
Ever since then, my entire approach to active music listening changed a great deal. I’m always trying to find different things to listen to in familiar music that I might not have noticed before, such as vocal harmonies, time changes, musical nuances, etc. In time, the skill started to get easier. By practicing active listening with music, I noticed that many aspects of my musicality improved. My sense of rhythm and pitch got better and singing harmonies got so much easier. Many of these listening skills carried over to other parts of my life, the biggest one being the social skills and communication. For most of my life, hearing non-verbal inflections in the voice was not easy for me, and that’s such a big part of expressive communication. Now, however, hearing and understanding these non-verbal cues has become very natural for me, which has helped immensely in my music therapy internship. The skill of actively listening and picking out both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication has been essential while working with clients in music therapy. It helps to understand what kind of emotions a client might be feeling when they cannot verbally tell you. It also helps greatly while helping a client write song lyrics about something that has happened in their life. By practicing active listening, I was able to work on a lot of these skills and apply them to my practice as a music therapist.
The sense of hearing is the sense that we, as music therapists, connect with the most. It’s the medium by which we intervene and improve our client’s lives. We’re always hearing. We never stop hearing. In fact, the very last sense to go during death is the sense of hearing. However, hearing and listening are two different activities. Listening takes attention, practice, and development. Developing the skill of listening has helped to improve many aspects of my life, and the people I work with.
Whether it be in our personal or professional lives, conflict is bound to happen at some point.
Each week, us interns pull a word out of a hat to determine our weekly “word of the day”. Of all the words I have drawn from the hat, I think “conflict” is the most challenging blog topic I’ve gotten so far. This is probably because I value harmony and tend to avoid conflict!
One thing I’ve learned in the past 5 months is that in music therapy, particularly within private practice, conflict is inevitable at some point. MTCCA works in schools, in-home, at facilities, and in-clinic. To avoid breaking HIPAA rules, I will not disclose specific stories, but I can say that one of the main ingredients to a harmonious relationship with clients is COMMUNICATION! It is very important to be clear and concise, and learn how each person communicates best (phone, email, text). At the end of the day, one of the most important things is confidence in the fact that I’ve been totally clear in all my interactions.
At the beginning of my internship, I would have avoided conflict at ALL costs, but I think that since then, I have certainly grown in confidence and am much more comfortable in dealing with conflict now! These lessons come with experience.
Everyone uses communication skills. How we differ is in the effectiveness of our communication skills. As I grow in music therapy, I have noticed how each individual tries to communicate with and without music. It is human nature to tell each other stories. I found this article very interesting, and it surely embraces the idea of how we make connections through personal stories. The challenge as music therapists is telling stories through music, especially with people who are non-verbal.
– Hilary White