The Art of Articulation

Assumptions. We all make them. We all stereotype certain people, and make assumptions about others every single day. We can’t help it. It truly is part of our DNA. Our brains are hard-wired to make assumptions about people in order to determine danger as quickly as possible and allow us time to protect ourselves.

As someone who both speaks for a living, and lives in the South, I have one particular area that interests me, and that is how different people speak, and the assumptions we make about them. Here in the South, of course, people tend to speak with a certain accent, one that is generally viewed around the rest of the country as being inarticulate, and a definite sign of a lack of education. Since I’m not a native of this area, and travel extensively for my job, I have managed to avoid picking up this accent for the most part, but occasionally it sneaks in. Usually it’s with a nice “ya’ll” when speaking to a classroom full of students. Of course, being born and growing up in NYC, I can also occasionally throw out a New York accent too, but most of the time those 20+ years in Ohio leave me with that generic Midwestern accent that works fairly well as I travel around.

The reason I bring this up, is that oftentimes the people who I hear end a sentence with a preposition, or speak with a real twang in their southern accent, really aren’t the dumb hillbillies that many others would judge them to be. In fact, some of them are actually more educated and smarter than I am, despite the fact that their speech can sometimes make me cringe. They are simply a product of their environment. Everyone around them speaks that way, so they’ve developed that habit as well. In fact, you could say that they are simply adapting their communication style to meet the needs of the listener, which is actually a very smart thing to do.

Of course, as much as we shouldn’t judge anyone, when you do some public speaking as part of your job, it doesn’t matter how smart you really are, it matters how smart you sound. You simply have to be well-spoken in the classic definition or your audience will tune you out. Those instinctual judgments will kick in and they will infer that you are uneducated and not very bright. If you’re in training, the second the class makes that judgement about you, you’ve lost them.

So, if you want a career doing training, you should probably leave the casual misuse of the English language at the door. Sure it might not seem very natural, but it’ll make you much more effective. I’ve long believed that the trainer doesn’t have to necessarily be the smartest person in the room, but everyone should think they are. Once they don’t, they stop listening.

Have you ever had a trainer who left you feeling like they weren’t very smart? How did you react? How about people who don’t always use the correct grammar, do you tune them out as well?

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  1. Amusingly, when I traveled in the south to train, I was the “little Yankee girl from corporate”, and they wouldn’t attend my classes. I had (at that point) spent more of my life in Pittsburgh than Boston and could twang, but it wasn’t enough :).

    1. There is definitely that too. It can be a struggle to meld in with your audience but it’s something we all have to do, and as an student, you have a responsibility to do it with a trainer as well.

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