Entrepreneurs who are not native English speakers have a unique set of challenges that native English speakers don’t have to deal with. Getting a complete grasp on the language is only the first step up the mountain for these entrepreneurs.
For over 10 years, these entrepreneurs have come to me to work on their English communication skills. They know that their impressive product or technology can change their respective industries, but they also know that they start from a disadvantaged position due to English being their second, third, or sometimes even fourth language. In this article, I’ll go over what I work with my clients on in order to have them communicate better in English, and help their company reach new heights.
Communication can be powerful, memorable, and impactful in delivering a lasting impression on any audience. Great communicators have a massive leg up over the competition. However, you lose that massive leg up when you are not clear or sound “flat” or too un-engaging. You may be the most brilliant and knowledgeable person on a particular topic, yet if you can’t communicate clearly or engage the audience odds are you won’t be as effective.
Many people with accents believe that they can’t communicate as well as those without accents. It’s important to remember that you can have an accent and still command tremendous power when you communicate.
What is an Accent?
An accent is formed when elements such as the sounds you make or the rhythm of the language you speak affects how you produce the new language. Accents can be foreign or regional. This quote from Marianne Haugland Hindsgaul, the CEO and Founder of Bubbly, summarizes the effect of accents on a person’s communication skills.
“We all speak English, but if you want to be taken seriously and have people really listen to you, you have to communicate using the right words, tone and message. It might be charming to speak with an accent, but you don’t want to be known for not how you sound rather than what you say.”
The effects of an accent on communication can be broken down into three general categories; clarity, intonation, and confidence.
How to Better Communicate with an Accent
Sounds are very important, and when some sounds change, the words change, which could result in being misunderstood. When I refer to sounds, I talk about muscle memory, which is really procedural memory. You’re actually changing a neural pathway to create a sound that might not exist in your native language.
It feels very unnatural to create a sound that you didn’t have to ever call upon in your native language, and it’s very hard for most people to create a new neural pathway to add this foreign sound to their arsenal. On countless occasions, clients have said to me, “I’m too old to change my accent!” It’s a daunting task to tackle your own accent, but I guarantee you can change it through understanding the correct way to make the sound alongside a lot of practice.
You have a short time to make an impact. For entrepreneurs, those few moments can stand between you receiving funding or not. If they don’t understand what you are asking for, or if they lose attention after only a few sentences, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve what you desire. People have short attention spans and no one likes to work too hard to understand someone.
I often refer to intonation as the “music” you use. When you’re in the right key and use the correct tone, you can connect better to your audience and tell your story more effectively. This requires learning how to use the rhythm of English to change a monotone presentation to something much more interesting. Oleksandra Rohachova, CEO and Founder of InkHunter, has been pitching in New York for the past six months and said,
“It feels like you are getting a super power. It’s all about seeing the difference. This experience, so far, was most productive for me in making a great pitch.”
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One common element entrepreneurs shared with me after working on their own communication clarity was the newly gained confidence in knowing they have the tools to create a clear and fantastic pitch, despite being non-native speakers. Hilde Amundsen, CEO and Founder of Mindfit, a Norwegian-based mental health company, often pitches in English around Europe and stated,
“It’s important to do this work, because when you represent your startup and want to scale in other countries or look for funding you need to be confident that investors and other partners can understand your message. How clearly you can represent your company determines whether you get results or not. I feel more confident, and it shows in my presentations.”
The saying that “confidence is key” is used too often, but for any entrepreneur, going into a pitch with confidence, even if it’s not in your native language, can be the difference between you leaving with nothing and you leaving with money that will let your company thrive.
Communication is a very personal thing. It is how we connect with the world and how we make ourselves known. The impact of this work comes with the success of each client. Gabriella Brodi, CEO and Co-Founder of Readrunner, an Italian-based company launching here in the U.S. believes that the communication work that she has done has helped her immensely.
“I personally get a lot of benefit from this work, and the techniques are adapted to my specific needs.”
It is important that this accent and communication work is personalized, since each individual or team brings a unique perspective and style. We work together as a team to design what works for each, and the result has proven itself to be an extremely powerful tool for entrepreneurs.
The value of clear and confident communication cannot be understated. One situation where you can apply your improved communication skills is when you pitch to angel investors. This article has the most important rules to live by when approaching these investors.
Lisa Patti is the owner of AccentC3, a company focused on accent and communication coaching. Since she was very young, due to interacting with her grandparents from Italy, her passion has been languages, cultures, and the international community. She understands the power of human communication and its ability to transform relationships and career paths. She has worked with entrepreneurs and professionals from across industries, and from countries across the globe.