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.


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


Neuroscientist’s Stroke Speech is True Stemwinder

If you want to give a great speech, tell a personal story.  It helps if it’s about your ability to experience nirvana.

The speech was delivered in February by Harvard neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor and has become an internet phenomenon.  The talk, in which she describes her stroke, has been viewed more than 2 million times and is continuing to be seen at a rate of about 20,000 a day, according to TED, the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference that sponsored the speech.

As of this writing, an article about Ms. Taylor in Sunday’s New York Times was the newspaper’s most emailed story. The speech is an amazing story of a neuroscientist’s personal experience having a stroke. She delivers the message with lots of passion. And there are mystical elements about her ability to experience “nirvana.”

To my mind, however, what makes the speech great is the personal nature of the story. How often do you get to hear someone who knows so much about the brain discuss her own stroke? 

The public speaking lesson here is that personal stories hold an audience.

By the way, Professor Taylor actually does a two-minute “show and tell” with a real human brain. So if you’re squeamish, don’t watch. I found it fascinating.


To Beat Nerves: Practice Like Mad. Then Jump

To overcome stage fright, practice like crazy and then go for it.

A female financial executive for a large financial services company once called me for help on a presentation to a major trade conference. She told me she gets so nervous that her mind literally blanks out. “I can’t remember my name,” she told me. “I’m just a terrible speaker. My nerves just overwhelm me.”

We had her rehearse her 10-minute presentation 25 times in the two weeks leading up to the conference. When the day came, she was nervous. But when she stood in front of the group, her practice kicked in like a form of mental muscle memory.  She nailed it.

In fact, she did so well that she has now been identified as one of her firm’s top speakers. She speaks all the time now, always taking care to practice extensively.

There are a million little tips on how to overcome your nerves. But none are better than simply being extremely well-prepared.

Of course, lots of preparation doesn’t mean that you won’t be nervous. It just means that you’ll be ready to do well in spite of your anxiety.  

Going forward in spite of the anxiety can pay huge rewards. That’s something that Paul Potts learned on a huge stage.


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. 



Smiling Can Hurt Your Health

One of the easiest ways to boost your charisma is to couple eye contact with a smile.  But make sure that the smile is genuine. Otherwise, you could get sick.

Phony smiles — especially those that you force when you’re having to endure an on-the-job insult – can damage your health, according to a study out of Germany.

Dieter Zapf of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt studied 4,000 volunteers working in a fake call center. Half were allowed to respond in kind to abuse on the other end of the line while the other half had to suck it up, according to a story published by UPI.

Zapf found that those able to answer back had a brief increase in heart rate. Those who could not had stress symptoms that lasted much longer.

“Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings there are negative consequences,” Zapf said. “We are all able to rein in our emotions but it becomes difficult to do this over a protracted period.”

In other words, ignore the words of Judy Garland.


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?”


Making a Conference “Worth it” to Attendees

Great post today from marketing guru Seth Godin about what business people expect when they travel to meet with you or to hear you deliver a conference presentation. He writes:

I think the standard for a great meeting or a terrific conference has changed.

In other words, “I flew all the way here for this?” is going to be far more common than it used to be.

If you think a great conference is one where the presenters read a script while showing the audience bullet points, you’re wrong. Or if you leave little time for attendees to engage with others, or worse, if you don’t provide the levers to make it more likely that others will engage with each other, you’re wrong as well.

Here’s what someone expects if they come to see you on an in-person sales call: that you’ll be prepared, focused, enthusiastic and willing to engage honestly about the next steps. If you can’t do that, don’t have the meeting.

Here’s what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript.

There are at least two things conference attendees can’t get from a transcript. The first is relationships with the speaker and the other attendees.  The second is a chance to get their personal questions answered.  If you aren’t ensuring that your presentations do both, then your presentations could be falling short.