How important is the way you speak to your success?
True story: Peggy was a talented attorney who was undeniably good at what she did. When the partners of her firm gathered to determine which attorneys would be invited to partnership that year, her name came up. The consensus around the boardroom table was although she did an excellent job, the way she spoke was not representative of the firm. As a partner she would need to interact with their international clients, but she had a colloquial sound that put her in a box. In other words, the way she spoke diminished her professional presentation.
In the United States, you would never turn on one of the major network news stations like NBC or ABC and hear ‘Sally Sanders from the South’ with a southern drawl. If you want to be a national news reporter, you are required to speak in what is considered a standard American accent. Sarah Palin was the governor of Alaska and quite an accomplished woman. However, her mid-western Alaskan pronunciations made her the butt of many jokes when she ran for vice president of the United States in 2008. People just did not take her seriously.
In England, the London accent is the standard that gains respect. There is a perception that those who speak ‘cockney’ and other dialects are lacking in some way.
Understand that everyone has an accent. Accents are what distinguish us internationally. Take pride in your accent, but be sure your speech is for global consumption. I remember when Wendy Fitzwilliam, of Trinidad and Tobago, won Miss Universe in 1998. She so eloquently represented her country in her strong, undeniably Trinidadian accent. She came across as intelligent and articulate and she commanded her audience.
For some professionals it is not dialect, but incorrect use of words, overuse of words, poor diction, incorrect pronunciation, bad grammar and other speech habits that diminish their professional persona.
The sad truth is Peggy will never know why she has not been invited to partnership. This is also true for many people in the workplace. Right, wrong or indifferent, people often judge you by the way you sound. Your communication skills are even more important than your appearance. You can look great, but if you open your mouth to speak and it doesn’t line up, the way others perceive you may be downgraded. In contrast, there are people who do not look impressive at all, but when they open their mouths they gain credibility simply because they are articulate.
I often get clients who lack the confidence to share their ideas and undersell themselves in the workplace, because they are insecure about the way they sound or come across. It saddens me, because I find those who have not learned effective communication skills are often overlooked and underestimated. In many cases, these are the people with the substance.
Inadequate communication skills can hold you back in your career, but through assessment, coaching and guidance, anyone who so desires can polish their vocal image. Communication is a skill that can be improved with practice. I have worked with many people to enhance their professional image by helping them to add polish and presence to their personal presentation.
If you are interested in personalized coaching, contact us about my upcoming four-week small group coaching sessions that begin this Thursday.
- Kim Welcome is CEO & founder of Influential Voice. She assists businesses and professionals to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills to increase their impact and influence. Her clients range from the country’s largest and most prestigious employers to public figures and individual professionals. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.