April 26, 2015

Sound Convincing and Confident with Americans

Are you preparing for an interview in the US or with your American offshore team? Will you be delivering a sales presentation to an American client? Or, maybe you are preparing to discuss changing project deadlines on your next status call? 

To be able to communicate your message in a way Americans would find confident and convincing, keep these tips in mind: 

Speak crisply
Do not speak for a long time (more than 3-5 minutes at a time). These interactions are conversations to build relationships, not a thesis defense. If you tend to write in long sentences (more than 15 words), it's possibly you also speak in long sentences. Imagine if you are the listener listening to someone speaking in really long sentences. How would you feel? Probably overwhelmed or confused, unable to get the point easily. If you feel this way, a listener listening to you speak in long sentences would most likely feel the same. If you speak in sentences using many connector words like ands, buts, therefores, and ands, it's likely your sentences are too long.
The other element of speaking crisply is assuring that you break your message up into no more than three topics. This is especially important for presentations or demos. 

End with a Down Tone
When speaking statements that would end in full stops, assure your tone at the end of statements goes down. Be careful with punctuation marks. The tone for statements ending in a full stop (period), question mark or exclamation mark are all different. For instance, the endings of these three statements will sound different:
  1. My name is Jennifer.  (Down tone means, yes, my name is Jennifer.)   
  2. My name is Jennifer? (Up tone means, hmmm is my name really Jennifer?)  
  3. My name is Jennifer! (Up excitable tone means, oh my! Yes, of course I am Jennifer. It's not normal to be so excited like this in professional situations.) 
Match your feelings to your words.
Firstly, it's important to start conversations and continue conversations with a smile. Native speakers of any language can tell if the person they are talking to is happy, sad, excited, mad, etc. Try to match the tone of your voice to the tone of the words. For instance if you say, "I am happy to be on this call with you today," and you are nervous and frowning at this time, the Americans (or British or Australians) on the other side of the phone will notice this discrepancy. I guarantee it.

Speak naturally, varying tone and speed
Listeners will not be able to follow if the tone remains the same throughout the conversation. Likewise, be careful of your speed of speech. Speaking too fast doesn't prove your English is better because if you are not a native speaker, your accent will surely worsen. Speak slower, but not like a robot. It takes time and practice.

Understanding when to enter the conversation
Do not interrupt people while they are speaking. Americans will find this very rude and any negotiations will stop. Understanding the conversational cues is tricky without practice. If you live in the US, it's better to watch other Americans talk to observe how they interact or politely interrupt each other. Or, better yet, talk with people and practice. If you have American friends you feel comfortable with, ask for help. For those on virtual, global teams, this may be more complex. For you, I suggest to listen to interviews or podcasts onYouTube made by people who are speaking spontaneously. Listening to radio interviews or call in radio shows where conversations take place can also be helpful to achieve this. If you are in the US or can find clips on YouTube, listen to weather reporters- who use many local phrases, idioms and accents. If you can follow them, you are on the right track! Another tip is to listen to these podcasts while commuting to work, be it in a car or bus. In this, I do not suggest to listen to every single word, but to keep it on as background noise. Learn to hear the music of native American English speakers. This will help a great deal. One person I coached did this for three months. At the beginning of three months, we barely could hold a conversation as he kept interrupting me. Keep in mind his English was good- he spoke in grammatically correct sentences and had good vocabulary. After practicing these tips for three months, conversations improved 110% percent. No more unwarranted interruptions, and more fluid, productive conversations. Here, listening is also critical to success.

Listen and Respond Accordingly
All of these communication tips go hand in hand. As you improve the above, your listening comprehension will improve. In this case, listening comprehension is two-fold - understanding the speaker the first time you hear them (the need to ask to repeat will reduce), and more fluid, productive conversations.

Keep these tips in mind when having conversations with American counterparts. Note that even if you are interacting with non-native English speakers working and living in the US, many of them will also be following many of the conversational cues of American English native speakers, especially if he or she has been living in the US for several years to several decades. 

Jennifer Kumar helps offshore teams and other non-Americans working with Americans to be more successful and confident while working with Americans. Contact us for more information. 

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