Sherry is a scientist working in a large Fortune 100 company. She was born in China but has been living in the U.S. for close to fifteen years. She has been with this organization for seven years and has a stellar reputation among her peers. She is by no means shy and willingly shares her scientific findings with her colleagues. Her group is tight-knit and has been together for close to 2 years.
Sherry is well published and growing in stature in her field. Success also breeds challenges. She was now being asked to deliver presentations to both in-house senior-level executives and industry-wide participants at major conferences. She was trying to avoid these public speaking endeavors. In her mind, her thick accent was a hindrance.
She has taken accent reduction training along the way but has had limited results. With her team, all is well. Everyone understands her and accepts her style without reservation. However, with others, it seems as if her personality actually shifts. She becomes more subdued, reluctant to speak. She avoids participation at large-scale meetings. In short, she lacks confidence. She did not think of it as a communication problem but rather a language issue.
Sherry attended Varallo International’s Presenting with Impact course hoping to learn more about how to deliver such presentations. She was not all surprised that the eight participants were from multiple countries. After all, her company has numerous international professionals working across many departments. Even the three native-speaking participants, she discovered, were extremely uncomfortable with public speaking.
Sherry was pleased to learn that the Varallo International program was to be held for three days. She enjoys a substantial program. Two of the days were consecutive while the third day was to serve as a follow-up to be held 4 to 6 weeks later.
As a part of the pre-work, Sherry had to prepare two 15-minute presentations. She knew she was going to be videotaped and was extremely nervous. The pre-work did mention that the tape would serve as a personal learning tool and would not be shared with the group at large. But as she anxiously waited for her turn to deliver, she felt no comfort.
Sherry paid close attention to the feedback the other participants were receiving. She was surprised that articulation and intonation were something everyone needed to improve.
Nonetheless, she was sure her accent would doom her. She delivered her presentation and waited for the critique. To her surprise, workshop leader, Vince Varallo told her that her accent presented no difficulties. She was stunned. What he did tell her was that because she lacked confidence, she rushed through her words and sentences in a mumble. This was her defense mechanism. If she was a fast speaker, no could understand; thus, they could not tell if she had a problem with English.
She was further stunned when Vince told her that slowing down was not the only solution. Everyone also tells her to slow down. Rather, she should alternate her speed. She should slow down on important information and speak normally at other times. Most importantly, she should sharpen her articulation and focus on delivering the information that was easy for the audience to access.
She was accustomed to worrying about her own challenges and never focused on how the audience might best receive her information. That represented a major mind-shift for Sherry.
Finally, she needed to square her shoulders to the audience, make eye contact, and speak with clarity.
Sherry loved the feedback and incorporated it diligently it into her next presentation, delivered on Day 2. Vince told her that she had gone from a below average presentation to an above Sherry sound-production exercises to help clear up her “l/r” and “v/w” sound combinations. Sherry learned that her challenges were not so much in English as they were in the fundamental communication skills needed in presentation.
Sherry knows she must wear her “articulation shoes” with all of her communication. She wants to be better than just “above average” and is motivated to continue her improvement. Two months later, she was proud when Vince and his VI colleague, Carmela, told her that she delivered a “good” presentation.
Sherry is now an active presenter. She recently delivered information to 150 scientific professionals at a major conference. The good news for Sherry is that her audience did not pay attention to her English; rather, they focused on her message.
For Sherry, the playing field is a bit more even, thanks to her hard work with our team.