Thoughts on listening and a wonderful podcast

a wonderful podcast

I love sound, be it the sound of laughter, singing, electronics, Foley (the art of creating/adding aural detail to films), instrumental music, the human voice …

So I love to listen to podcasts that explore the world of sound.

There’s one I listen to regularly. I mentioned it in one of my blogs awhile ago (Thoughts on the Music of English). It’s called Twenty Thousand Hertz. You can find it on ITunes.

The reason I love it is because it delves deep into the world of sounds that bombard us every day from gaming, computers, cartoons, slot machines, cars. From the people speaking around us, to us, at us … on podcasts, TV, radio, the internet. The list keeps going.  I love it.

In honour of Halloween likely, the most recent episode talks about the history of the “theramin,” the electronic instrument you play without touching it. It’s the instrument that put the “scary” into scary music, but has led another life beyond horror movies.

Why do I mention this podcast? Because it’s a great tool for listening practice. In the same way that I always tell clients they have to learn to “listen” differently, listening to this wonderful series trains the ear to listen in a different way.

You see, the show is about the sounds we take for granted – that we don’t even think about – in the same way that we often take “speaking” for granted. We hear without really listening.

Sometimes we let sounds wash over us, passing “in one ear and out the other.” Sometimes, they evoke strong emotions.

We live sounds in “broad strokes.” We may ignore them completely or be aware only that they make us “feel” one way or another:  soothing or annoying. But we never really take the time to get to know them.

Twenty Thousand Hertz calls itself “A podcast revealing the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” And that’s what’s so amazing. How many times have you wondered about what you’re hearing: the bleeps and “cheeps” that your computer makes when you turn it on or notifications arrive; emergency alert sounds; Siri’s voice; the short music that introduces current event shows.

How many times have you thought about their “why,” their “how,” their origins, their evolution, their composition, their distinct qualities? When you become curious and start to listen to them closely, when you start to think about them in a different way, your listening skills can change and your awareness deepen.

Each episode is also beautifully produced. The quality of the audio is outstanding. The host and executive producer is Dallas Taylor, an award-winning sound designer and sound mixer.

I urge coaches and clients/students alike to listen to this wonderful series Twenty Thousand Hertz. You get to hear a clear articulate speaking voice in the host, perfect sound quality, fascinating subject matter, new vocabulary and stories that will make you aware of your sonic surroundings like a baby discovering sounds for the first time.

Oh, by the way, if you’re wondering what “twenty thousand hertz means,” it’s the highest pitch (sound waves) that human babies can hear.

And, of course, don’t forget to check out  One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on building up your public speaking confidence

public speaking confidence

Last week I wrote about stepping out of our comfort zone.

Whether you’re a speaker of English as a Second Language (ESL), English as a Common Language (ECL) or English as a Native Language, many of us struggle with self-confidence when we have to get up to speak in front of people.

For speakers of ESL and even speakers of ECL, part of that lack of confidence can be helped by correcting the sounds that cause confusion.

But for all of us, there’s still an emotional component that has nothing at all to do with vocal mechanics. The idea of simply getting up to face a group of people we may or may not know and talk to them is absolutely terrifying.

Now public speaking skills can be taught. I coach those skills. But getting the practice to use those skills, that’s something else. Practising in front of a mirror will help. It’s good, but it’s not enough. You need to face people. And Toastmasters provides the perfect place.

At Toastmasters, I watch speakers of ESL, speakers of ECL and native English speakers alike get up and challenge themselves to talk on a regular basis. Their courage is admirable and contagious.

Sometimes they’ll give a speech from memory. Sometimes they’ll get up to speak on a random “table topic,” with no preparation at all.

Sometimes, they’ll take on one of the weekly roles:

  • One person will announce how long each speech was.
  • Another will ask questions about the content to see it people were listening.
  • Still another will provide a word of the week for vocabulary building.

The point is that there are always opportunities to get up and speak in front of members and guests.

And that’s what’s important. Stepping out of your comfort zone and speaking publicly.

There’s a wonderful saying that I absolutely love:

 The comfort zone is a beautiful place to live, but nothing grows there.

Toastmasters is a beautiful place – a comfort zone of unwavering support in the joy and exuberance of its members. But every time you give a speech or wade into the deep and sometimes troubled waters of “table topics,” every time you take on a role, you step out of your comfort zone and grow.

Every week there are lessons to take away: in the shared camaraderie of watching and giving speeches and the universal hesitation of taking on table topics; in the gentle guidance of the speech “evaluators” and the smiles and applause that greet every single person who gets up to speak.

Toastmasters is a wonderful community that welcomes strangers with open arms, no matter what their age, and encourages but never pressures them to participate.

I can’t think of a better way and a more caring environment for speakers of ESL, ECL and native English speakers alike to build up your confidence. Find a branch near you and check it out.

And don’t forget to watch this week’s One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel

Thoughts on stepping out of the comfort zone

the Comfort Zone

It’s important to accept ourselves as we are. It is. Yes, we’re good enough as we are.

But sometimes we can use the idea of “good enough” as an excuse for not pushing ourselves to try something different.

I’m not talking about something extreme like white-water rafting or tandem parachute jumping or bungee jumping. It’s not just about facing physical danger.

I’m talking about little things.

For me, who had often given speeches and presentations using notes, it was giving a speech without notes for very first time. The relief and joy I felt was palpable to everyone around me.

For some, it might be walking an hour and half to a destination you’d normally get to by car or public transit. When we travel, we never think twice about walking for an hour or two. Might the neighbourhoods you’ve ignored so often as you passed by suddenly come alive with colour and sound?

For some, it might be finding a restaurant where the “locals” eat, where you don’t recognize a single thing on the menu. You look over at the next table and say to your waiter, “I’ll have whatever they’re having.” Might you suddenly find adventure in the city you’ve lived in your whole life?

For everyone, it can be about making a list of all the routine things we do and asking ourselves, “Why do I always do things the same way? What would happen if I were to do somethings differently?” How might I feel?

That’s what my advanced speakers of English as a Second Language or English as a Common Language face when they come to me for coaching. They’ve usually done fine with their English as it is. And yet, they’ve decided to challenge themselves to do more.

Sometimes it’s to make their pronunciation just a little clearer. Sometimes it’s to take their language abilities to a new level of sophistication. Sometimes it’s to add energy and emotion to their communication skills. They know change won’t come overnight, but they make the commitment to work at it. The excitement they feel as they change and grow feeds them, as does the thrill when other people notice.

Change isn’t easy. Sometimes it comes in a flash. More often, it comes slowly. I admire and applaud their spirit and determination.

There are things that all of us have done throughout our lives that we’ve never questioned because the answers could make us uncomfortable.

It’s unnerving to do things differently when we’ve been comfortable doing them the same way for so long. It’s so much easier to stay in one place with a minimum of stress and no risk – where the outcome is certain.

It’s hard to change. It takes courage. It takes stepping out of the comfort zone.

But oh … the rewards …

Your thoughts are always most welcome.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach channel.

 

 

Thoughts on communication: “Whose job is it anyway?”

Whose job

Sometimes I hear a critique of accent modification – a bit of a backlash. There are those who argue that making any changes to someone’s accent is a slight, even an insult – that this is just cultural bias and it’s up to the listener to pay attention. Well that can be true, if the accent is distinctive but the content is fully intelligible.

But let’s inject some balance into the conversation.

The simple fact is that it can be tiring enough just trying to focus on listening to the content without the added burden of trying to decipher the sounds. In the time it takes to figure out what someone has just said, we get behind on what they’re saying. Yes, listeners should make an effort to understand. Absolutely. And, you know what? I think, for the most part, they do. However, communicating effectively is a shared responsibility.

The speaker has an advantage. They already know what information they want to communicate. The listener is left to interpret the meaning of the speaker’s words.

This isn’t just true of speakers of ESL or English as a Lingua Franca. We all have accents. Every single one of us. So no one is talking about erasing accents. All we would be doing is replacing one accent with another. Accents in themselves are a beautiful expression of who we are.

But even if a native English speaker has an accent that’s challenging in a context outside of their own surroundings, it can be problematic.

I remember being on the phone with a tech support rep from Georgia, Alabama (in the U.S.), where it took about 15 minutes for me to understand what he was asking. There was no body language to make it easier. There were no visual cues. I thought his accent was wonderful. I loved it. But I had a technical problem that needed to be fixed and I was getting frustrated. He wasn’t getting the information he needed to do the work because I was having so much difficulty understand him. It wasn’t about cultural bias. It was about time and efficiency.

In fact, I happened to have a conversation with a Canadian the other day who laughingly told me he had acted as the interpreter on a business telephone meeting between two native English-speaking Americans who couldn’t understand each other’s accent: one was from Georgia, the other from Brooklyn, New York. It was a good thing this person had been available to help out. He understood the challenge completely because he had lived in Georgia for a time and had had a girlfriend from Brooklyn.

So let’s not jump to the conclusion that it’s always about cultural bias. It’s not.

As much as we’d like to think it’s just a matter of listener effort, I would argue that speakers have a responsibility to try to communicate as clearly as possible, to draw in and guide the listener to facilitate comprehension. That doesn’t negate the responsibility of the listener.

Both parties have a role to play in successful communication, to be sure. But we only have control over one of them –– ourselves. That’s all.

Your thoughts are always welcome.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s One-Minute Words

Thoughts on coaches as “motivators”

coach-motivators

There can be so many different factors that affect intelligibility. It’s a combination of  incorrect pronunciation of words, rhythm, intonation, volume, word stress ….

So how do we “measure out” corrections when we have limited hours with clients and so much we all want to achieve? Give too many, too quickly, too soon, too forcefully, and it’s easy to overwhelm and discourage.

Our clients are often busy people with careers and families. They’re also, often, successful, hard-working and tired. Though we think that age brings patience, often successful people are proud and confident of their achievements. High achievers can also get discouraged in a new endeavour that demands changes to entrenched habits tied into their identity.

We need to be mindful and ready to adapt to their needs. Less can be more.

And we need to model and motivate.

We want them to look forward to these “extracurricular” studies. We want to motivate them to practise wherever they can, with whatever time they have. In some ways, as demanding as learning new communication skills can be, our classes and their individual practice can be a beautiful refuge from the pressures of workplace and family.

We need to make their classes joyful and uplifting. More than just informative or instructive, we need to energize and encourage.

Whether we’re working with groups or coaching individuals, our exuberance should be infectious and our support –– unambiguous.

Everyone can learn … everyone. If we can help them to be patient and forgiving of themselves. If we can inspire them to adopt realistic expectations. A plateau precedes progress. And the most minuscule improvement is a step forward and deserves celebration.

If we can be coaches and motivators, we can work with a recipe that will fuel the success of our clients.

Your thoughts are most welcome.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s One-Minute Words 

Thoughts on how to let go and speak with passion!

Music and the passionLast week I wrote about the relationship between the music of English and the art of the sale /2018/09/14/thoughts-on-the-music-of-english-and-the-art-of-the-sale/

As you’ve probably figured out, I have a special feeling for the power of music in the English language. The fact is there’s power in the music of every language. But since I coach English-language communication skills, I focus on my native language.

Connecting clients with the rhythm and the melodies of English pulls them into the “spirit” of the language, for sure. But how do we pull them in? How do we help our clients/students to let down their guard and try something that may be entirely new for them?

First, of course, by modelling.

Our own passion is infectious. Our voice doesn’t need to be loud. It does need to be dynamic. We need to speak with conviction – with sincerity, honesty, humour, calm and confidence.

But you can also play with commercial jingles, old and new, to inspire and motivate your clients.

The music of jingles most often (but not always: Coca Cola’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing” [that part’s okay] “in perfect harmony” [that part’s not]) imitates English syllable stress perfectly: (Alka Seltzer antacid) “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is,” (Kit Kat chocolate bars) “Break me off a piece of that KitKat bar;” (Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum) “The taste is gonna move ya when you pop it in your mouth;” (Nationwide Insurance) “Nationwide is on your side.”

They’re so catchy that they’re quite capable of taking over the brain and the body. That’s exactly what a good commercial jingle is supposed to do – stick in your head forever – persuade you to buy.

Get your clients/students to take these short jingle sentences and use them with different intention. Get them to overact like crazy. Make it dramatic: angry, pleading, hysterical with laughter, fearful, demanding. Where does the voice move? Up? Down? When does it move? How does it move? Do the words get faster? Slower? Let the rhythm and the melody — the music — take the body along. Gesture. Walk.

Stand up and be intimidating. Then relax, sit down, smile and say it in jest. When do they breathe? When do they pause? Have them say it with the same high drama in their native language. Have them say it again but with no words. Have them say it in gibberish. Play. Explore. Let the imagination run wild. Be children.

Then take it all  back into the words of the presentation, the speech, the sales pitch, whatever. Take each sentence and make it rhythmic. Really exaggerate the syllable stress. Inject every emotion you can think of into the way you/they speak. Go over the top. Pull out all the stops.

And after all that, bring it back. Be clear on the intention of what’s being said. Modulate the dynamics. Make sure the keywords are crystal clear. Find the places to pause.

The exercise works with students in a classroom setting, in business with members of the rank and file and even with executives. It allows them to let go, be a little wild and walk around in someone else’s shoes for awhile.

The music is there inside all of us and it’s powerfully persuasive.

What do you think?

To listen to the jingles I referenced, go to https://youtu.be/gZ1nfdO_3Aw

And don’t forget to check out this week’s One-Minute Words at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfYf8kBkeL0&list=UUtLnMIqmYW9uRCi_Kx48AaQ

 

Thoughts on the “music” of English and the “art” of the sale

Music of English & art of the sale

With so much out there on the internet these days, it can be harder and harder to get your voice heard selling in the world of interaction with real live people.

So, more than ever, it’s about building relationships, listening, connecting.

But while it’s important to be able to listen, it’s also important to draw people in.

And sometimes, when the pronunciation, rhythm and intonation get in the way, it’s harder to connect.

Of course, when certain vowels or consonants are incorrectly pronounced, it can cause confusion. And when the listener stops listening to figure out just what was said, speaker and listener go out of sync.

The fact is we may not have 20 minutes or half an hour for the listener to adjust. The brain has already done a backflip, and it takes a moment for the listener to get back to the present. In that moment, we can lose the sale.

So the fact is we do need to correct some of the sounds that are causing confusion in the important words. But it’s never every sound.

There was a study done some years ago on by the psychologist Albert Mehrabian, who found that listeners judge the emotional content of speech, first by the speaker’s body language (55%), then 38% on “vocal qualities” – not words, but tone of the voice, the pitch and the pace of the delivery. It’s not about the words.

In any case, anglophones just listen for important words, the ones that provide meaning. We fill in the rest from context. So we need the clarity of important words to make sure we understand them the first time.

But the rhythm, the intonation, the dynamics all help us to understand what we need to focus on and what you want us to feel. When we know how and what syllables or words to stress, we’re guiding and motivating our listener.

English is constantly moving up and down staircases. If we want to emphasize an idea, the voice will rise in pitch, in volume. We’ll hold a note –– maybe just a word, maybe just one syllable –– but we’ll make it just a little higher, a little louder and a little longer.  We’ll speak a little faster. Then get a little slower. We’ll pause for a moment to let the thought sink in.  We’re guiding the listening saying, “Listen to this. This is important.”

We can listen to music that has no words at all. Yet it can motivate us to feel. In fact, it can evoke powerful emotions. The “music” of English works exactly the same way.

We anglophones are lazy speakers, so English is a language of reductions. If something’s too hard to say, we change it. So what you see on the page often has little to do with the way we say it. But that “short-form” English can spark the imagination with its rhythm and melody. It works on our emotions, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about psychology.

And the “art” of the sale is about psychology.

It’s about trying to enter into the mind of the prospective customer to make the listener feel as comfortable as possible. But to make that sale, the salesperson too, has be comfortable. If the customer and client are totally in sync, great. Why bother to make any changes?

But, often, I find that people are hesitant to make changes – as if incorporating more of the Canadian accent (standard North American accent) would destroy a sense of identity.

The thing is … our accents (and we all have an accent) are a beautiful part of who we are. And making some changes isn’t the same as erasing our identity.

People respond to music. And the music of the Canadian English language can help communicate, negotiate and motivate.

In the long run, we’re not just selling a product or a service. We’re selling who we are. We’re saying, “I care about you. Trust me. Listen to me. I have something of value for you.”

The “music” of English and the “art” of the sale have a powerful connection.

Your own thoughts are most welcome.

And don’t forget to check out the latest word-of-the week at One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach channel.