PodiumWise | Tips for advanced presentation skills

A few times every year someone will show up in a workshop I am conducting and they will have such a strong accent that it is difficult to fully understand them.  Almost inevitably, they will tell me that their boss recommended that they take the course.

I know what is happening.  The boss doesn’t want to go near the accent issue for fear of being deemed culturally insensitive, or worse.  Instead, the individual is being urged to attend a workshop that is not obviously about diction (i.e., a presentation skills class), with the hope that the instructor will provide some feedback about the accent. 

I understand the boss’ fear and avoidance.  This could be a delicate matter.  However, withholding feedback is unfair.  An individual can be left struggling to succeed without knowing why.  For this reason, I address the accent issue when I determine that it is preventing someone from being adequately understood.  With rare exceptions, the feedback is well received.  In fact, I have had numerous people thank me.

The goal is not accent-free speaking.  An accent can give someone’s speech wonderful color and distinction.  The only goal is effective communication. 

Everyone deserves to have his or her ideas fully understood and appreciated.  If this means they need some feedback about their English diction, it should be given—in a sensitive, thoughtful, productive way.

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