Accent Neutralisation: Speak clearly, Be heard, Be Understood

This was the title of a recent workshop I facilitated for the Speech and Drama Teachers Association of Victoria. It was fantastic to work with a room full of voice and speech teachers, drama teachers and EAL teachers all committed to supporting their students communicate their message clearly and effectively.

My key message for those wanting to neutralise their accent is to remember that it’s not about speaking like someone different or trying to change who you are. It’s important to remember that accent is intrinsically linked to identity so my focus when working with clients is about identifying the situations where you feel your accent is impacting on your ability to communicate clearly. For example, when speaking with your family or friends it may not be as important to think about your clarity as you feel comfortable in this situation. Whereas, when you are in a job interview, giving a presentation or in a meeting, you may feel that you accent is affecting your ability to get your message across clearly and perhaps you’re often asked to repeat yourself. If this sounds like you then I recommend a program of one-on-one sessions which will target the particular sounds (vowels and consonants), words and situations that you want to focus on.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting more about the different aspects of communication that I target as part of my accent neutralisation program, so stay tuned!

Presentation tips from a magician: Sight, Sound, Sync

This fast paced and funny Tedx presentation will keep you entertained but also give you some handy tips on how to prepare yourself for your presentations. As presenters it can always be confronting to review yourself and watch a video of yourselves back. Vinh Giang takes us through how to review videos of ourselves presenting and critiquing our “sight, sound and sync”

The risk of making assumptions

My husband and I were at a restaurant recently and when the waiter came over to take our drink orders this is how the conversation went:

My husband: “Can we have 2 glasses of pinot please”

Waiter: “Which one?”

My husband: [hurriedly opens menu again] “Oh is there more than one by the glass?”

Waiter: [looks confused] “Ah well there’s the Pinot Grigio or the Pinot Noir”

My husband: “Oh, well it’s 2 glasses of the Pinot Noir please”

To me, this is a classic example of making assumptions about your audience. My husband’s favourite wine is Pinot Noir and because of that he assumes that if he ordered a “Pinot” it’s immediately obvious what he means and what he wants. But that’s of course only obvious to him.

I’ve talked a lot about knowing your audience in previous posts and this is another example of why it is so important. If we make assumptions about someone’s knowledge about any topic we are automatically creating a communication gap and this is likely to result in your audience switching off and disengaging.

In conversation we often make assumptions about other people’s knowledge on a topic. I know that with my husband I’m guilty of using TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) that are relevant to my profession and he has no idea what they mean and vice versa,

We get so caught up in our own world that we forget when we talking to others to check ourselves for firstly the other person’s interest in the topic and secondly how much knowledge they have on the topic.

We’ve all been on the other side of these “presumed knowledge” interactions where we are sitting there going “what are they talking about??” and if you’re anything like me you find it incredibly frustrating or just plain boring.

So, the next time you’re chatting with a friend or family member, try to make sure they are not saying “what are they talking about?” about you!

Speak from the Heart

As Franklin Roosevelt said “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

We live in a cynical world where we are trained to second guess what everyone says and never take anything at face value. So, as a presenter, how do you get your audience to believe you? Simple, speak from the heart. Now, you may be thinking this is easier said than done but at the end of the day, if you believe in what you’re saying and that passion and enthusiasm comes through in what you say then your audience will believe in you and your message.

Being sincere means being yourself and this for many people is daunting especially when standing in front of an audience of hundreds or maybe even thousands. But, think about it, if people don’t believe in you and who you are, why should they believe in what you’re saying?

The next time you present, think about it as being less like a presentation and more like a conversation. Think about the conversations you have with your friends and family and the energy you speak to them with about what you do or your interests. That is the real you and that is what needs to be channelled when you present.

Secondly, as I keep saying, be prepared. It’s very difficulty to be passionate and enthusiastic about your topic if you don’t know what you’re speaking about! So, make sure you know your subject well and why you find it interesting, important or useful. Telling your audience why you believe in what you’re talking about will help build a rapport with them.

As Alexander Gregg said “There are three things to aim at in public speaking: first get into your subject, then get your subject into yourself, and lastly, to get your subject into the heart of your audience”

Practise, Practise, Practise

When we are asked to give a talk or a presentation we often spend very little time preparing and this can be our downfall. Did you know that the average presenter doing a TED talk spends approximately 200 hours preparing? Yes 200 hours! And the majority of the presenters sound casual, relaxed and spontaneous. So, how do you achieve that “planned spontaneity”? It’s very simple. Practise!

When asked to give a presentation start by brainstorming the topic. What is the key message that you want your audience to walk away with? Now, what stories, examples and points are you going to use to make that key message sink in? Once you have this, start thinking about the structure of your talk. What will be your engaging opening story that draws your audience in and captures their attention? What points will you make to support your key message? Now that you have this sketched out, start rehearsing. Start talking out loud to get the feel for how your introduction, main points and conclusion sound. Now, reflect and revise. This is a cycle that needs to be repeated many, many times- Run, Revise. Reflect. Keep doing this until you feel comfortable with the flow, the transitions and ensuring that your key message is getting though.

Now, practise in front of someone you trust, you feel comfortable in front of and who you know will give you honest feedback. Often we can get so caught up in our own topic and our own knowledge of the topic that we forget that our audience may not grasp certain points or that our message is not clear. This is the job of our “test” audience. They can help us make sure we’ve got the message right and that it comes across clearly and concisely.This also gives you the opportunity to practise your eye contact, rate, volume, pitch and prosody – all the important features that will assist in making your presentation interesting to listen to. 

If you’re nervous, then practise is the key. It is only through practise that you feel more comfortable, confident and know that you know your material. If you believe in yourself, so will your audience.

Good luck!

Tips for engaging your audience and killing the boredom factor in a presentation

In this post I’d like to talk about PowerPoint. PowerPoint can be a really effective tool that helps your audience understand and remember your message but for most people it can also be the main reason why your presentation is boring and why your audience switch off.

I’d like to challenge you to think about how you use PowerPoint. Stop thinking about it as a place where you can put your notes to remind you of what to say and start thinking of it as a visual aid to support the key messages that you are saying.

1. Brainstorm

Don’t open PowerPoint. Get out a piece of paper and a pen and do a mind map of your key messages and key points. Take the time to think about how long you have to present, who you are presenting to, what your audience already knows about the topic and what they need to know.

2. The structure

Be clear about the introduction, your key points and your conclusion. Your conclusion should tie back into your introduction. 

Once the structure is clear in your mind it will be much easier to use PowerPoint effectively to reinforce your key points rather than getting the slides to say them for you.

2. Use examples and stories

A good public speaker is essentially a good story teller. Giving examples and stories helps your audience understand the key points and why the points are important and relevant to you and to them. This also helps you connect with your audience and build a relationship with them.

3. Do you need slides?

For some reason, now that we have access to PowerPoint we think that every presentation we do needs to have slides. This is not necessarily the case. Think about the purpose of your presentation, the size and the formality. If it is large group then slides may be appropriate but if it is a small workshop of 10 or so people, using a whiteboard may be more effective tool. 

4. Designing your slide deck

If you decide you do need slides then think carefully about which points in your presentation you need these. Go through your well-prepared notes and decide on which points would benefit from emphasis with a slide. Remember, if you don’t absolutely need a slide then don’t use one.

Next, think about whether your going to use words or images on your slides. Remember the 7 x 7 rule- no more than 7 words per line and no more than 7 lines per slides. Some of the most effective slides are those that have only one or two words to highlight a key word or phrase.

If using graphs, make sure they are readable. You must also give the graphs meaning. There is no point in putting up a slide that no one can read and no one understands the purpose of.

By far, the most powerful way to use PowerPoint is to use images. Images give power to your message, make you stand out from the crowd, help your audience understand your key points and helps your audience remember them. 

5. Be prepared

Whenever I give a presentation with or without slides, I stand up and rehearse it out loud. This is the only way to know whether the flow is right, to get your pacing and transitions correct and to be able to speak with confidence. Through practice you also have the opportunity to work on making your voice engaging and interesting.. Think about where you will pause and the rise and fall of your voice. No one wants to listen to a monotone presentation and the delivery is key to ensuring your message gets across to your audience clearly and effectively