Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Are you a Performing TELE-SLP? Performing. I’m not referring to ”productivity.” Rather, I’m hinting at being an artist-performer, because in a way, all SLPs are performers. In-person SLPs are the theatre and opera stars caught in performances of natural acoustics and aesthetics. Tele-SLPs are the movie stars, where everything that happens on-screen is realized in the home of the viewer. If you have provided skilled speech intervention, you’ve given a performance.
With an undergraduate degree in Voice Performance (Opera Singer), there are secrets of being a performer that are applicable to being a professional Tele-SLP.
In order to sing an opera, there has to be written music, lighting, props, staging, choreography. All of it must be learned, rehearsed, tweaked, rehearsed again, then performed. In order to hold a successful Teletherapy session, you have to know your skilled interventions, your technology equipment, your visibility on-camera, and your working materials.
This is the secret of every seasoned SLP, right? Once you’ve had some years of SLP-experience under your belt, you start to see patterns—music scripts, if you will. You recognize how a song will end, and you can rely on successful past performances to guide your intervention in the life of a child. The same is true of Teletherapy. Right down to that one stage light that always flickers, no matter how many times you’ve changed cords, reconnected, and restarted. Keep rehearsing the plan, and you’ll nail the finale.
Honestly, some of the best, funniest, most well-received performances are those when something went wrong. Really wrong. Like a wooden chair prop broken when sitting down, trying to catch yourself from falling, but only able to grab hold of the now broken chair arm all while STILL SINGING -wrong. Does that kind of wrong ever happen in Teletherapy life? How about... I opened up a website for a student and now there’s an ad with loud music and words, but I can’t see it or find it and don’t know how to stop it so I just stop sharing the whole application -wrong? Only now I can still hear it so I close the whole site. And then there goes my plan. So, now what? Now, it’s improv time.
What do you do when someone hands you the wrong prop? Take it and use it.
What do you do when someone sings the wrong line? Sing the next line after it.
What do you do when someone enters in the wrong side of the stage? Change direction briefly, then redirect.
What do you do when someone starts genuinely crying on stage? Make it part of the performance.
You see... if we Tele-SLPs stick only to our Teletherapy plan, we miss the opportunities for memorable moments. Being a Tele-SLP performer means you have the script, but can shape it based on the actions from the other side of the screen.
A performer senses when the audience is anticipating the next scene, when they’re captivated by the music and action, or when they’re bored to tears. When the latter happens, mediocre performers stick to the script and rehearsed lines. Memorable performers do something. Change a facial expression or gesture. Grab an unplanned prop. Alter their tone or volume. And shouldn’t we Tele-SLPs do the same thing?
Keep an improvisational eye on your student’s screen. Pay attention to their verbal and nonverbal reactions to materials, prompts, and cues. Find something that educates and engages.
Oh yes, they do. Performers fail. Big time, sometimes. And it’s ok. Because they know that it’s just one performance. They take their failed performance and make necessary changes so that it won‘t happen again.
That‘s what you have to do as a Tele-SLP, too. If you have a terrible Teletherapy session or terrible day of Teletherapy, remember, it’s just one session, one day. Update software, charge hardware, get reliable resources. And get back online, on-screen.
What does a cast do at the end of a show? Bow. What plays at the end of a movie? Credits. Why? As a “thank you“ to the audience and to the people behind the scenes.
At the end of your Teletherapy sessions, remember to thank your students. Remember to thank your learning coaches or parents. They are your audience and behind the scenes cast! Even though their level of involvement in each session may vary, there’s a lot of work that goes into each session, as you well know. Thanking them for their efforts, no matter how small, cultivates a positive environment for everyone.
Go. Be a performer. After all, you‘re a performing Tele-SLP.
-Angela C. Hancock, MSP, CCC-SLP