When I am coaching entrepreneurs from around the world, the focus is typically on clarity of speech and using intonation and voice to make an impact. That, however, can take many shapes, and one reason for that is the impact of culture on communication.
Sergey Zverev, the founder of Bino, explained that being more serious shows confidence in Russia. Less facial expression and intonation are commonly used to demonstrate that. In Vietnam, however, speaking in a softer voice is common. In places like Norway, Brazil, and Korea, it is a cultural norm to not “brag too much” and upstage others. Andreas Engell, the founder of GaitLine, added that in Norway, bragging could also be perceived through the use of your voice or focus on intonation, and not just the words you use.
While the variations in cultural communication are present, the foreign entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with all agreed that vocal energy, enthusiasm, and passion were important for a great pitch. For some, this comes naturally. For others, it takes practice to feel authentic using that energy. Victoria Zavyalova, founder of V-Startup, has watched many pitches across the world. As a public relations and business development expert for startups, she knows what investors like to hear:
“A good investor pitch is a good pitch everywhere. A lot depends on the background of a speaker. Startup culture is pretty similar around the globe”.
One thing to remember is that one size does not fit all. In the United States, you can find significant variations in how someone uses voice and volume, and there are several different dialects to consider. Hanh Dinh, a curriculum designer and freelancer from Vietnam asked if having an accent would be a problem for her when training and teaching clients in New York.
It’s very easy to assume that this would be a big barrier, but in actuality it is really no different than someone with a southern drawl in the same position. There will often be differences in dialect, accent and speaking styles, but there are some common threads that connect impactful communication from those with accents. Energy, clarity, and understanding how to use your voice can give you the sound of confidence you need to make the impact you desire on your audience.
Here are 5 easy tips that can be used by anyone who wants to communicate clearer. A great way to practice is to start with short phrases in everyday life and apply one of the tips.
I have coached many founders where their message and vocal energy didn’t sync up. When entrepreneurs say “we are using the most advanced technology available today” in a monotonous or flat voice, would you believe them? Think about the words you are communicating and what tone should accompany them. It’s a great idea to film yourself when possible. Do you sound excited and convincing on tape? It is ok to be serious, and different context will determine that, but does your overall tone match your message?
Are you speaking too low? If your friends are always leaning in and working to hear you, you probably are speaking at a volume that is below the conversational level. If you are speaking too low when you pitch, your audience won’t work nearly as hard to hear you. They’ll simply dismiss you. On the other hand, if you are too loud, you can sound over-punched or rude, so be careful that you don’t overwhelm your listeners.
Open your mouth
This one sounds odd and self-explanatory on the surface, but it can make a big impact on your ability to connect with your audience. In the U.S., people open their mouths quite a bit to speak. However, this can feel very strange to many people when speaking, depending on your language background. Languages such as Chinese or Russian don’t require your mouth to be very open. Opening your mouth more than you might feel the need to will help with volume, stress, and clarity.
Pausing between thought groups gives the audience a chance to take in the new information you are presenting. It also gives you a chance to breathe, and slow down your pace. Pauses are a great replacement for all those “umm”s and “uhh”s which frequently take up the time between thoughts, but sound unimpressive and uncoordinated to the audience.
You can’t speak in one note; it is the easiest way to lose your audience. You must vary inflection (or pitch) in different words, and hold the vowels slightly longer for words you want to stand out. When audiences start to pay attention to the speakers that engage them, they will also be tuning into key information that stands out, making the pitch that much more impactful.
A clear and inspiring pitch can make all the difference when you are an entrepreneur. However, doing so with an accent or when English isn’t your first language complicates the matter. These 5 tips are some simple starting points that can guide you on your way to more success for your business.
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