Last week a workshop participant came to me after my presentation to tell me that she was very embarrassed to speak publicly because of her heavy accent. (Even though she spoke 3 languages fluently, she was embarrassed because she spoke one of them with an accent!)
I told her to begin her next presentation like this:
Good morning. If you haven’t yet heard my accent, you soon will. That’s because I’m presenting in English today. If I were speaking in Italian, French or Russian, I could speak with almost a perfect accent. I’m still a bit rough with Mandarin, much like I am with English. I hope that you’ll honor me by asking me to repeat anything that I say that is too heavily accented to be easily understood. With that, the first point….
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When I speak in the deep south, my New York accent can sometimes get in the way of the message. I’m likely to bring it up to my audiences by saying something like: Some of you may have detected a slight northern accent (and they all laugh!). Yes, I’m a Yankee. But I think it may be okay because my husband is from North Carolina – Thomasville – and he has said that I’m officially Southern, by marriage. One very proud group of Southerners actually gave me a standing ovation!
Powerful presenters remove obstacles between themselves and their listeners. They help their audiences and buyers feel comfortable so that they can hear. If you have an accent, help your buyers/listeners get past the obvious. You don’t want them sitting there not hearing because they are either trying to place the accent (hmm, I wonder if she is from Jersey or Long Island), or turning themselves off because they have to work too hard to understand, or their bigotry gets in the way.
Take the offense. Help others feel safe. Set yourself up for success.
Here are 5 more public speaking tips for non-native speakers.
What are your ideas to overcome speaking with an accent?