Three Core Sounds Every ESL Executive Should Master

There are 44 different sounds in American English.  All are important, but some sounds are more important than others.  Which sounds should you tackle first?

Vowel sounds play a very important part in language.  We lengthen and intone vowel sounds when we emphasize certain words in a sentence.  We also lengthen vowel sounds to indicate syllable stress.  Vowel sounds play an important part in making words, and sentences, knowable.

Practice these sounds:

1.) The “Cat” Vowel Sound – This is a very common vowel sound.  To make this sound, bring your lips into a smile.  Keep the tongue flat. The sound is short.

2) The “Fun” Vowel Sound – This sound often gets mispronounced.  Many executives, especially Russian speakers of English, make it more complicated than it is.  This sound is made by keeping the jaw and tongue very relaxed.   The sound is short. It sounds like a small grunt.

3) The “High” Vowel Sound – This sound is long and your lips, tongue and lower jaw move while you make it.  To start, round your lips as if you are holding a small ball in your mouth.  As you make the sound, move your lips into a slight smile, and arch the middle of the tongue high toward the hard palette.  Count to two as you make the sound.

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.

Monica Lewinsky and the Art of Crafting a Dynamic Ted Talk

A good TED Talk needs to be simultaneously intellectually stimulating and personally revelatory.  Lean too far toward the revelatory and the speech will become too maudlin, lean too far toward the intellectual, and the speech will become too dry.

I have seen few TED talkers balance the intellectual argument of their speech with personal revelation quite as well as Monica Lewinsky.  She starts the speech with an engaging attention-getter.  From there, we move quickly to the moment by moment details of the Clinton scandal; the sensory experience of what it was like to be interrogated by Kenneth Starr’s team, the shame and humiliation she felt, so much so that her parents insisted she shower with the door open in case she attempted suicide, and the experience of seeing her name slandered over and over again in the media.  Concurrently, Ms. Lewinksy builds her argument against the “culture of humiliation” which has been accelerating since the advent of the internet.  Her argument is loaded with pertinent data, and compelling contrasts and comparisons.  All this builds to a righteous, and well-deserved call to action.

If I were to nit-pick, I would suggest Ms. Lewinsky relax her hands a bit as she presents as she has a tendency to wring them as she speaks, but this is a minor distraction.  Overall, this is one of the best TED talks I have seen in years.

 

How to Execute a Proper Elevator Pitch

Do you find yourself at a loss for words when someone asks you what you do for a living at a networking event?  You’re not alone.  Many people find it difficult to articulate what it is that makes their services unique in a short time frame, or they bobble their delivery.  Try these five tips:

1)  Know What it is that Makes Your Business Unique – This is crucial.  For example, when I am asked what it is that I do better than other speech coaches, I’m sure to emphasize that my training is tailored to each client’s unique personality.  

2)  Keep it Short – Keep it to two minutes or so, not ten.  We’re all busy.  

3)  Take your Time – Keep in mind that even if you have said your pitch a hundred times, your listener is hearing it for the first time.  Don’t rush.  Take your time.

4)  Run your Pitch by a Colleague – Get feedback.  Many pitches aren’t as clear and consice as they could be.  A colleague can help you identify where the gaps are in your pitch.

5)  Avoid Lingo – Keep your pitch very simple, and keep in mind the person or people you are talking to may not work in the same industry you work in.  Avoid lingo, and be very consice.  

Prince Harry, Public Speaking, and the New Year

Britain’s Prince Harry recently confessed to a severe case of performance anxiety when speaking in front of an audience.  He’s not alone: nearly 74% of Americans suffer from the fear of public speaking.  As we say goodbye to 2014, and usher in 2015, here are three unique ideas you can use to beat the fear of public speaking (and show up Prince Harry!):

1) Stand Tall – Research shows that the way we hold ourselves not only affects the way we are perceived, but also the way we feel.  Take three minutes to stand at attention with your hands on your hips and your spine straight before you speak.  You will speak more confidently.

2) Hold Your Breath – But wait a minute, this can’t be true, right?  We’re taught to breathe from our diaphragm while speaking, not hold our breath.  That’s correct, it’s important to breathe from your diaphragm while speaking, but holding your breath for ten seconds before you speak, tensing your muscles, and then sighing out slowly, can help to release tension.

3) Take a Hike – Or to be more precise, a walk.  If you are at a convention, or sales meeting, and you have a moment to duck out, do so.  A short ten-minute walk around the block will refresh you.  Try not to think of the speech, just your feet on the pavement, and your breath moving in and out. Keep it simple.  Just be.