Is it Possible to Speak too Slow while Presenting?

One of the biggest concerns of my executive presentation training clients in New York City is pacing.  “How fast should I speak” is a question I get a lot.  I tend to think you cannot speak too slow while presenting.  Adrenaline is a powerful substance, and it tends to take over a speech.  Without awareness, it’s all too easy to rush.  But there are those that think speaking too slow is a legitimate problem while presenting.  Let’s compare two TED talks, and analyze their rate of speech, starting with Laura Galante’s speech on Russian hacking:

I think Laura’s pacing is good.  She takes a clear pause at the end of each thought, and highlights important words with her intonation.  By taking her time, she makes complex material clear.

Now let’s check out Bendetta Berti’s TED talk from 2016:

Interesting comparison on a number of fronts.  I would say she is speaking much too fast, especially toward the middle of the speech.  Occasionally, she will take a break at the end of each thought group to allow her thoughts to land, but in general, she is rushing through ideas and concepts.  The problem is made worse by the fact that she is mispronouncing some important words, and dropping the “th” sound entirely.

I did my best to find an example of a TED-talker who was speaking too slowly.  I couldn’t find one.  So I stand by my original premise; you cannot speak too slow while presenting.  What do you think?  Comment below or tweet me your thoughts.

When is Having an Accent a Problem for a Presenter?

accentreductionThe most common fear I hear from ESL executives when they come to me for help with their presentations is that they are worried that their performance is being judged based on their accent.  According to many studies, they are correct to assume this bias.  But are these studies really accurate?  Is cultural bias based on speech the same in Wisconsin as it is in New York City?  In the Northeastern U.S. and especially in New York City, there are many, many people with accents.  Nearly 37% of the population of New York City was foreign born, and nearly 50% grew up with a language other than English spoken at home.

What does this mean for you, seeker of English excellence?  It means if you live in New York or New Jersey, it’s likely you are being judged by your accent by your peers, but not much.  How could you be?  It’s likely your peers (and your boss) have accents too.

The only reason to adjust your accent if you live in the Northeastern U.S. is to improve your ability to be understood.  If you are regularly misunderstood, it’s imperative that you run your presentations by a coach, and get accent reduction training.  If you have an accent, but you are not regularly misunderstood, don’t waste your time on accent reduction.  Accents are beautiful things, and wonderful conversation starters (not to mention attractive, let’s be honest) so why try to get rid of it?  Sometimes the best way to get over an accent is to simply accept it.

Accent Reduction, English Fluency and Business Interviews

interview imageAs an accent reduction specialist in New York City and Central New Jersey, I see a fair amount of business people preparing themselves for interviews.  For the ESL executive, this can be a daunting task.  If you find yourself stumbling over your words in job interviews due to your lack of English fluency, try these few tips:

1)  Don’t rush – it seems obvious, but most ESL executives speak too quickly.  Take a breath at the end of each phrase, and really consider what you need to do with your articulators (tongue, lips, lower jaw, soft palate) to make each sound.

2)  Study beforehand – pick up an accent reduction book, or begin to work with an accent reduction coach before your interview.  Pick out five core problematic vowel sounds and five core consonant sounds.  Listen to the sounds, then work carefully on your articulation.  Pick out words you think you might say in the interview, and run them by your coach.  Work them before the interview.

3)  Role play – Write out the questions you might get asked, bullet point the answers, and then role play the interview with your husband, wife or coach.  The more you prepare, the less likely you will get stuck trying to pronounce a word your don’t know!

Three Common Speaking Mistakes Made By ESL Executives

  As an accent reduction coach in New Jersey and in New York City, I hear a variety of speaking problems.  Here is a list of the top three problems I encounter, and their solutions:

1) Misplaced or Missing Articles – This is a common mistake, often made by Slavic speakers of English.  Virtually every noun in American English (except for some proper nouns) has an article before it.  The articles we use in English are “a”, “an”, and “the”. Many accent reduction students don’t realize that there are rules about which article is most appropriate in a sentence.

“A” and “an” are used with singular, non-specific nouns.  For ex. a dog, a cat, an elephant, an apple.

“The” is used with specific singular or plural nouns.  For ex. the neighbor’s dog, the largest elephant, the delicious apple.

2.) Dropping the “th” sound –  The “th” sound is unique to English.  There are two types of “th” sounds; voiced “th” sounds, and voiceless “th” sounds.

Voiced “th” – than, those, these

Voiceless “th” – think, thought, with

To make the “th” sound, place the tip of your tongue on your front teeth and blow air through your teeth.  You should see your tongue on your teeth as you make the sound.

3.) Wrong melody – the most important word in a phrase is called the focus word, and it gets a rise in inflection on the stressed syllable in American English.  In a sentence, every new idea is generally the focus word.

I lost my HAT.

Which KIND of hat?

The RED hat.