In my communications work with nonnative English speaking professionals, founders, and teams, the topic of accents comes up often. The common threads are that 1) everyone wants to sound professional, and 2) almost no one feels confident speaking English with their accent. Does this sound like you?
Recently I interviewed Sheron Tabois, leadership consultant specializing in professional development, influential communication, and personal image. Sheron and I both serve as presentation skills trainers at Lighthouse Communications and have extensive experience living and working abroad. In this section of our hour-long interview, we talk about accents, clarity, and the journey towards confident communication.
Getting rid of your accent
“It’s not about getting rid of accents; they’re beautiful linguistic markers,” Sheron passionately states. I couldn’t agree more that rather than viewing accents as obstacles, it’s important for individuals to embrace them as a testament to their multilingual abilities.
“Accents let people know that you are at least bilingual, probably multilingual.” —Sheron Tabois
Accents are keys to your story. Where are you from? What have you experienced? Who are you? How boring it would be if we all sounded the same. What we’re aiming for is authenticity in our communication style. Attempting to smooth out what makes us unique, instead makes us run-of-the-mill.
Two tips for speaking with more clarity when you have an accent
“I was doing a workshop in Paris and all of the participants were native French speakers. They were speaking so quickly in English—pretty similar to how they would speak in French, and just a little touch above a whisper. They were hard to understand,” recounts Tabois.
There are two tips Tabois always gives nonnative speakers when it comes to enunciation. First, is to speak louder. Speaking louder automatically slows you down, which helps with overall clarity.
Tip number two is to open the mouth when speaking English, just 5% wider. Tabois says, “I have clients try this and then, of course, we have to record them and play it back. They’re amazed at the differences these small tweaks make. And they also allow us to hear the fullness of their voice.”
“Doing these two things makes you clearer, while allowing that natural, beautiful accent to come through.” —Sheron Tabois
Nonnative speakers and confidence
Whether you’re a nonnative speaker or not, “mastering your subject matter is essential for confidence,” Tabois states. It’s tempting to think that confidence just comes like manna from heaven, but in reality, confidence comes as a gradual development through experience, practice, and expertise in your subject matter.
I often work with nonnative speakers who think they have to be perfect in their presentation delivery. But what we’re aiming for isn’t perfection, but a connection with your audience and being understood. “Regular vocal practice hones articulation,” emphasized Tabois.
We both agree that when you’re preparing a presentation or a pitch, you’ve got to practice it—and practice it out loud over and over again. There’s a common misconception that some people are just “great presenters” while others aren’t. There’s nothing further from the truth. Great presenters practice. And they practice a lot. While practice won’t make your presentation sound perfect, it will help you feel more confident when the big day comes.
Allow your accent to become a distinctive mark of who you are. Stand tall, share your story, and embrace your accent as a unique feature that will connect you to your audience.
Watch the full interview with Sheron Tabois here.
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