It is amazing to think there are people who believe they don’t speak with an accent. What’s that? We can practically hear the accent in that denial! The truth is we all have accents, some are more exotic than others.
Our accents flavour the words we all speak. It’s the calling card of our cultural heritage, geography and backgrounds. An accent is a complex melting pot of these influential bits and pieces. So yes, everyone, with the exception of monks who have taken a lifelong vow of silence, has an accent.
Still, there are some people who are insecure about their accents. In fact, they believe the way they sound is so noticeable or thick it disqualifies them from speaking in public or in videos.
This insecurity is particularly common, but not exclusive to, people for whom English is a second language. Whether Russian, Indian or Brazilian, many non-native English speakers worry viewers of their videos will look down on them because their accent.
Still, these people are keen to use video to promote their businesses or broaden their professional horizons. So they start to think, “is there a way to get rid of this accent?”
Well, there are voice coaches who offer accent mitigation or reduction training. From our perspective we’ve never liked the idea of attempting to scrub an accent.
It could have something to do with the fact that we live in the Caribbean. Apart from beautiful weather and beaches, if there’s one thing Caribbean people have in spades is accents.
We have accents ourselves even though we are native English speakers. In our many years of working in the media we’ve rubbed shoulders with broadcast journalists whose voices are flavoured by accents as well. So the short answer to the question, “is an accent a liability in video?” is a resounding no.
Given the legitimate fears of non-native English speakers, however, a short answer to this question won’t do much to make those concerns budge. So let’s take closer look at the topic of accents in video content and why it just doesn’t matter.
The source of accent fears
Before exploring the subject of where accent fears come from, we want to set up the conversation with a bit more background on where we come from. We live in Trinidad which is at the southern end of the Caribbean island chain.
Trinis, as we are affectionately called, have distinctive accents even as native English speakers. Trinidad was once a colony of Britain and the country is populated with people of different cultures from all over the world. Our accents are shaped mainly by the mix of cultures on our island. In many ways, though, we took some cultural cues from the ‘motherland’.
Similarly, many people with heavily accented speech take their cues from on-air personalities such as news presenters, talk show hosts and even film stars.
They look at CNN or the BBC and accept the accents of news anchors as the gold standard for the English speaking world.
As such, people who are concerned about their accents believe it would be tough to build credibility among their own video audiences.
There are two things to consider here. First, the world is a diverse place made up of people from varying cultures.
Accents differ from state to state or province to province even within English speaking countries. A New Yorker sounds different to a Bostonian and a Londoner sounds unlike a Mancunian.
Second, the world of video is far more democratic than television or films. People from all sorts of backgrounds are making videos and posting them online…for people with all sorts of backgrounds!
That’s part of the beauty of online video and the internet itself – it brings people of different cultures together in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Therefore, people with accents (you included) all have a space to use video to communicate in this digital universe of infinite possibility.
Your accent isn’t a liability, but an asset
Your accent is part of you, and one of the best aspects of public speaking is sharing your personality.
As mentioned earlier, some people with accents put themselves through “accept therapies” to dilute the heaviness or thickness of their native tongues.
We, on the other hand, like to think of an accent as an asset in a crowded online video landscape. With so many people doing videos nowadays, some content just gets lost in the shuffle.
Creating video content that resonates with viewers takes some thought. One of the most important techniques to snare the attention of audiences is by weaving your story into your video content.
Instead of trying to push your accent into the background, make it a part of your story.
Let viewers in on your story. Tell them a bit about who you and where you’re from. Share snippets of your culture in your video content.
This openness makes for a multilayered story and can distinguish you from other video presenters speaking on similar subjects.
Communicate effectively with any accent
For potential on-camera presenters an accent is no barrier to reaching out to audiences. In fact, there are basic principles that apply to anyone, with or without an accent, for communicating effectively on camera.
All you need to focus on are some basic principles of elocution, which is defined as the skill of clear, expressive speech. And they are:
1: Speak clearly.
2: Communicate at a reasonable pace (not too fast, not too slow)
3: Project your voice. Don’t mumble or muffle your words but consciously speak at a decent volume so your voice can be heard.
And there you have it-a sort of condensed version of the fundamentals of speaking with clarity on camera.
If you think the problem of clarity is exclusive to people with accents, think again.
It’s absolutely true. There are native English speakers who produce video content yet they are difficult to follow. That’s often down to the wrong pacing.
As a non-native English speaker, if you take the time to form your words properly your accent won’t matter because you’ll be speaking more clearly.
Slowing down also helps you tackle English words that can be challenging for non-native speakers.
So the basic rules we’ve outlined here shape a good, clear on camera presentation. They apply to folks with or without accents. Your accent in no way prevents you from communicating effectively on camera.
Speak clearly, throw your voice and slow it down and English speaking audiences anywhere will be able to understand you.
Practice your presentation skills
Some people who have thicker accents struggle to clearly enunciate their English words. For them it just requires more focus to use the basic principles we’ve talked about.
We work with a client whose native language is Spanish. His English is good, but his confidence speaking on camera was a bit shaky.
With regular practice sessions designed to get him slow it down and take the time to form his words, his clarity on camera eventually improved dramatically.
What was also particularly encouraging with our Spanish-speaking client is the more his delivery improved, the more his confidence grew. The continued boosts in confidence only improved his on-camera expression.
So sure, some accents are thicker than others. Once the speaker has a decent enough grasp of the English language and puts in the practice, though, an accent is no roadblock to success with video.
Think asset, not liability
We hope we’ve been able to help you see that an accent is no reason to shy away from speaking on camera.
Yes we’ve shared some simple tips to unshackle yourself from those accent fears but the most important work must begin in your mind.
You’ve got a tenant living in your mind. That tenant has convinced you your accent makes you less than ideal for reaching out to English speaking audiences.
It’s time to evict that tenant, because he wasn’t paying the rent anyway. We want you to chose the mindset that says you have something of value to say on camera.
Stepping in front of the lens can generate more business for you or open new career doors.
Put your desire to succeed above your fear of being judged. Don’t try to lock your accent away in a box. Embrace it as part of your story and start sharing that story with audiences.