How Managers Can Assess an Employee’s Need for Speech Coaching

Certain public speaking problems can be solved in a solitary fashion.  If you are unhappy with your powerpoint design, pick up Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  If you occasionally stumble over words, watch this blog post, and use a metronome to slow down your speech.  If you feel scattered while presenting, write out a set of short bullet points, and stick to them!  But there are certain public speaking problems they may require a collaborative approach.  Here are some public speaking problems that require coaching:

  1. Panic – if your employee is badly stumbling over their words, or unable to get through their presentations, that is a surefire sign that they need coaching.  A coach can teach them to breathe properly and to prepare themselves mentally before they present.
  2. Very Low Volume – if you are asking your employee to speak up on a regular basis, it may be that they need voice coaching.  A coach can help them breathe from their diaphragm, and utilize chest and face resonance to enhance their voice.
  3. Very Thick Accent – If your employee is unable to pronounce core business words, well, yea you guessed it…they definitely need coaching!  A coach can help them articulate vowel and consonant sounds, and rehearse the words they are using at work.

A good coach usually starts with a thorough evaluation and then draws up a personalized, practical lesson plan.  Be sure the coach you work with is assigning homework, and accessing progress as well.

Why Do People Doubt You When You Speak With An Accent?

In my coaching practice, I often hear that people feel they are being discriminated against due to the fact that they have an accent.  Accent discrimination is rampant and surprisingly legal.  The question is, why do people discriminate?

New research done at the University of Chicago suggests prejudice is only part of the problem.  Non-native accents make speech more difficult for native speakers to parse, and thereby reduces “cognitive fluency”, or the process by which the brain organizes stimuli.  This causes people to doubt the veracity of what is said.  From “The Scientific American”:

As a test case, researchers asked people to judge the truthfulness of trivia statements.  Statements were recited by either native or non-native English speakers. (Example: A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can.) The non-native speakers had mild or heavy Asian, European, or Middle Eastern accents. The subjects were told that all the statements had been written by the researchers but, still, the subjects tended to doubt them more when recited with an accent.

This has broad implications.  It may be that accent discrimination isn’t really about prejudice as much as the brains inherent distaste for any information that is difficult to process.   This may be cold comfort for those who have difficulty being understood on a regular basis.  By encouraging both higher levels of spoken English fluency AND increasing awareness around the science of accent “discrimination”, we can increase effective communication across the globe.

Brilliant Content for Your Speech? Great, but Delivery Is Everything

Majora Carter gives an impassioned, brilliant speech in the video above, taken from TED in 2006.  There’s a number of things she does very, very right from a public speaking perspective.  What’s most impressive is the way she uses personal stories to illustrate larger social problems; her family’s migration story became a basis for stats and facts about redlining and economic injustice in the South Bronx, the story of her childhood neighbourhood’s tragic downfall and her brother’s death is used to contrast her experience with her largely white audience, and to point out economic inequality.

But, alas, Mrs Carter falls prey to the same problem that bedevils many TED talkers; she speaks much, much too fast.  Facts and figures rush by the audience in a blur.  I would guess that is because she is trying to cram a 45-minute speech into her 20-minute time allotment.  She would benefit greatly from pairing her speech down and breathing at the end of each thought.   A recent study found that pausing 5x in a one-minute speech makes your material more memorable.  So take your time!  If you are a quick talker, try using a metronome to control the rate at which you speak. 

The Science Behind Pausing While Speaking

Did you know there is science behind speaking slowly?  Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed the phone calls of telemarketers and found that people who paused frequently during their pitch were more persuasive than callers who spoke uninterrupted.  The researchers say people typically pause about five times a minute. This speech pattern sounds more believable to listeners than when you spit out words without any breaks.

Nighat Dad’s speech above is a good example of the power of pausing.  She gives a passionate, intelligent speech, with a very powerful premise.  But occasionally she rushes, and when she does, her words come out in a nervous jumble, and she has trouble with syntax and grammar.  Her speech is markedly better when she pauses at the end of each thought.

What do you think?  Does pausing work for you?