In 1970, the film HERCULES IN NEW YORK was released, and it starred an inexperienced 22-year-old Austrian bodybuilder whose name was listed as ARNOLD STRONG “Mr. Universe”. It was the first film for the young man whose given name is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film isn’t a critic’s favorite but it has become something of a ‘cult classic.’ Perhaps the most notable feature of this film is the fact that Schwarzenegger’s voice was replaced by that of a voice actor. Why? It was because he had a HEAVY Austrian accent at the time. Check out the video clip HERE. He STILL has his accent, and although it’s not as heavy, it’s still clearly discernible. His accent is now world-famous.
For decades, people the world over have been imitating what has become his most famous line, from the 1984 film ‘THE TERMINATOR’. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the video clip is HERE. Arnold’s accent is uniquely HIS. It IDENTIFIES him. When you hear it, you KNOW it’s unmistakably ‘AH-NOLD’.
Why is this important to you? Well, for YEARS, Toastmasters, fellow speakers, and coaching clients have asked, “How can I get rid of my accent?” My response has ALWAYS been the same. “Why would you want to get rid of it? It’s a part of who you are! Your accent is an ASSET. Don’t LOSE it; USE it!”
Now you may think that you don’t have an accent…and you would be DEAD WRONG. We ALL have accents. Perhaps you’ve only used yours in a familiar setting with audiences comprised of people who sound like you do. However, in today’s world, with the proliferation of online meetings and virtual presentations, we will undoubtedly find ourselves addressing more global audiences with cultural, religious and traditional differences. Along with those will come a plethora of different accents. That’s just the direction that the world has taken.
Being Jamaican, I have a Jamaican accent. (That’s no surprise, Mark!) In truth, I modify my accent to make it more generic and universal…especially when speaking internationally…but I have not ABANDONED it. My Jamaican accent…of which I am quite proud…is still discernible. It IDENTIFIES me. Friends have used words like ‘MELLIFLUOUS’ to describe my accent, and I scurried to my dictionary to learn that it means ‘SWEET-SOUNDING’. That’s cool! Friends have tried their best to imitate the sound, and that usually leaves us all with smiles on our faces and laughter on our lips. VERY cool!
For almost two decades, my friend and fellow speaker Darren LaCroix, CSP, WCPS has been ATTEMPTING to imitate my accent when telling the story of one of our early speech coaching sessions. As he was preparing for the 2001 World Championship of Public Speaking, he brought me the first draft of his speech and as he tells it, I responded with this now (in)famous line, “Oh Darren! We have some work to do!” (See the video clip HERE) Whenever he tells the story and uses that line, the audience always responds with a laugh or chuckle. It’s fun(ny), it’s entertaining, and it helps to make to make the point of the story. If my IMITATED accent is an asset to another speaker, imagine the power of YOUR accent, when you use use it well!
What are some of the advantages to using your accent?
1) You draw the audience in because the sound is unique
2) You inspire the audience to listen more closely and understand clearly
3) You evoke the authenticity of your experiences as you tell YOUR stories
4) You ignite the audience’s interest in you; to some you are different; to others, you are exotic
As a presenter, you bring your knowledge, expertise, ideas, stories, and messages to your audiences. More importantly, each time you present, you bring your IDENTITY to the platform…or video screen. your accent IDENTIFIES you, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent identifies him, and as mine identifies me. Be PROUD of your accent. If you believe it would help to modify it to better serve your audience, then please do so, but please don’t get rid of it. It’s your signature. It’s your identifier. It’s uniquely you.
Remember…your ACCENT is an ASSET. Don’t LOSE it; USE it!
This article helped me immensely to overcome the fear of my accent. I had been trying to speak like BRITISH AND AMERICAN. But , Now i would like to speak like myself. I am thoroughly impressed with your impressive explanation about the importance of clear and unique accent. I am really grateful for the opportunity to read your nicest post.