Your Questions Answered! How Can I Be an Effective Public Speaker when I Have an Accent?

Q: How can I be an effective public speaker when I have an accent?

Your accent is a part of who you are. It makes you unique and can distinguish you from the crowd. On the other hand, when we speak with an accent other people might misunderstand what we are saying or not take us seriously. Despite taking Spanish in school for several years and being around Spanish speaking people most of my life, I sound absolutely ridiculous when I try to speak this language (I know what it should sound like, and that’s not what is coming out of my mouth!). I more than make up for this with my French, which might be passable in certain regions (though I’m not sure which ones). I really appreciate your courage because I know how uncomfortable I would be if I were in your shoes.

Identifying that you have an accent and that this might interfere with your effectiveness as a public speaker demonstrates critical self-awareness which is really important for any leader! Whether we are speaking in our native or another language, we can always improve our word choice and elocution so that we are can deliver a stronger message. I’m a native English speaker and my public speaking ability in my native tongue is completely different now than it was five, 10, or 20 years ago. This takes preparation and practice, practice, practice.

Don’t let your self-awareness turn into self-consciousness or self-criticism. If you feel self-conscious about your accent while you are speaking, you may project nervousness that distracts people from your message. Be proud of who you are and what you have to say! If you think the audience is not understanding you, check in with them and look at their reaction. You can also use visual aids, like presentation software or a handout, with text to help people grasp the key points of your speech.

Remember that we all have different linguistic abilities. I’m referring not just to you as a speaker, but to listeners as well. It can be harder for some people than others to interpret meaning when the speaker has an accent. Be compassionate toward them, and yourself, to develop a rapport that will make your audience want to learn more from you.