What Should You Do About Your Accent?

“I sound like such a redneck.”

That is what one of my clients told me today upon seeing himself on videotape.  He was shocked by his prounced southern accent.

In fact, we get a lot of people who wonder what they should do about their accents. We tell them that accents are great. They make you unique. The only issue is whether your accent is so strong that it makes it difficult to understand you. If that’s the case, then you might consider accent reduction therapy. 

Otherwise, celebrate your accent.

Here is a video of an aspiring actress who has gotten a lot of publicity over her ability to imitate many accents.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UgpfSp2t6k

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Why Is This Dog Smiling?

 Before we leave the topic of smiling . . . .

Have you ever wondered why we all love our dogs so much? Part of the reason is that they’ve learned to connect with us on a human level. 

Like humans, they look us in the eye and seem to know what we’re thinking.  Researchers in Hungary have discovered  that our dogs really do connect with us through eye contact.  For example, they can find hidden food by watching our eyes and gleaning clues to the hiding places. 

No one’s studied this yet as far as I know. But I’m convinced that dogs have also learned to charm us with a smile. How can you not love a dog that looks at you and smiles?

Stone-faced business people take note.  Would you approve this dog’s budget request?

smiling dog

 

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Can You Fake a Genuine Smile?

One of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” is the one where Jerry needs to know how to fake out a lie detector.  So he turns to George, who is presumably the best liar on the planet. George looks at his friend and, with an air of mysticism, says something like, “It’s not a lie if you believe it’s true.”

I tell you this because I am struggling with how to justify what we do with our clients in light of my previous post.  When I woke up this morning, I was a little disturbed at what I had written.

Surely it is not a good idea for a public speaking coach to tell the world that smiling can be bad for your health.  We spend a huge amount of time urging our clients to smile. 

In a workshop with some lawyers this week, I confess to using the following words. “As you do this exercise, I want you to force a big, fake, phony smile. I know it’s going to feel odd. But I want you to do it anyway.”  And of course, when they watch themselves on video, they see that they look great.

How can I reconcile that statement with the idea that phony smiles can make you sick?  Because (and you have to imagine me doing my best George Constanza impression) a forced a smile isn’t phony if you really mean it.

I’m not suggesting that you smile when taking abuse. I’m not suggesting that you suppress emotions of rage. Rather I’m simply trying to get you to realize that smiling is a great way to connect with your listeners.   And with training and practice you can learn how to turn on that smile naturally when you get in front of people.

To be sure, it will feel forced when you’re not used to it. But a golf swing also feels forced when you’re just learning. If you practice smiling, you’re going to learn how “turn on the charm” when you need to. And that charm won’t feel phony at all.

And besides. How can we not urge you to smile? As Louis Armstrong knew, smiling is the best and most natural form of connection we have available to us. 

 

 

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Historian Gives Speaking Advice to Graduates

If you want to improve the world, eliminate filler words such as “you know” and “like.”  That’s what Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough told the graduates of Boston College Monday during the school’s commencement ceremony.

“Please, please do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation,” McCullough said.

McCullough said he’s particularly troubled by the “relentless, wearisome use of words” such as like, awesome and actually.

“Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, ’Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually,” he said.

As a public speaking coach, it’s hard not to applaud someone taking the time to urge young people to eliminate filler words.  But McCullough is wrong to imply that it’s a young people’s problem.  Go to any boardroom in corporate America and you’ll hear plenty of Vice Presidents and CFOs uttering filler words like “uhh” and ” you know.”

Out of curiousity, I typed “Like” and “you know” into the search engine for YouTube and found a clip from poet and performance artist Taylor Mali.

This is Mali performing his work  “Totally like whatever, you know?”

 

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“Connection” and the Proposed MLK Jr. Memorial

 

MLK Statue

We can learn about connecting with audiences from this month’s controversy over a proposed statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The commission overseeing the creation of a Washington D.C. memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recently called for revisions of a proposed statue of Dr. King. The panel said the statue looked “confrontational” and reflected a “genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries.”  

In other words, they think it makes our greatest Civil Rights leader resemble Saddam Hussein.

The proposed statue is particularly ironic in light of Dr. King’s famous ability to connect with audiences.  He was certainly one of our nation’s greatest and most moving speakers.  Yet in the proposed statue, he is standing in a classic closed position. If we saw one of our clients standing like that in a workshop, we would urge them to open up and connect.

In fact, we’d urge them to assume a position more like the stance portrayed in the memorial statue of Dr. King displayed at the University of Texas at Austin as seen below. There Dr. King is shown in a more open stance, reaching out and connecting with an audience.

 

King Statue at UT Austin

But that’s where the public speaking lesson ends. 

Compare the Saddam Hussein statue below with the above statues. 

Saddam Statue

I’m no art critic. And I’m certainly no political scientist.  But it does look like Saddam, when he commissioned his statue, was trying to make himself look like the kind of leader that reaches out and connects with audiences.

Hmmm.

 

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