I once had the CEO of a company reach out to me to ask if I would coach a member of his leadership team in sharpening his verbal skills so he could increase his executive presence. “The problem,” he explained,” is that this fellow mispronounces a lot of words. For example, he says “acrost” instead of “across,” and “supposably” instead of “supposedly.” He’s in a position that’s heavily client-facing, and I don’t want these verbal slips to undermine his credibility. I know that word pronunciation is a little thing. But I believe it’s often the little things that can hold a person back back or move them forward in their career.”
Hmm! That Sounds Familiar!
His comment immediately made me think of my father. Dad was a U.S. Foreign Service Diplomatic Officer whose firm handshake, smooth speech, and polished-to-perfection dress shoes radiated executive presence. He also believed the little things mattered, in terms of how you spoke and carried yourself. Which is why he was always on me about how I used and pronounced my words. I can still remember him saying, “You bring something to you; you take something away” (I always got that wrong). He was particularly relentless when it came to pointing out how poorly I articulated and differentiated my d’s from my t’s. While Dad’s constant focus on my word pronunciation was somewhat annoying, it did heighten my ability to communicate effectively. Which certainly has come in handy as a professional actor, speech coach, public speaking trainer, and keynote speaker.
Does that mean I have achieved word pronunciation perfection? Heck no! From time to time I still find myself tripping over a word I don’t know how to pronounce. And even now I have to watch that my “to’s” don’t sound like “tuh’s.” After all, if I’m going to coach people in the elements that make up executive presence, I’ve got to model them myself.
Work Mispronunciation Can Diminish Your Executive Presence
We all have word mispronunciation habits that can trip us up from time to time, like saying “orientated” instead of “oriented,” or “nu-cu-lar” instead of “nuclear.” When you’re hanging with your friends and family, it might not matter. But in a corporate environment where you hope to project a c-suite level executive presence, it might matter a lot. Because the little things– like an improperly spoken word (or speaking with too many filler words like “sort of,” “kind of,” “like,” “you know” or “uhm”—but that’s another blog post altogether), really can make a listener question your professional capabilities. The hard cold fact is that incorrect word pronunciation can diminish your leadership presence. It may seem petty and unfair, but people really do judge you by the way you speak.
So, How Do You Stop Mispronouncing Words to Increase Executive Presence?
If you really do want to increase your executive presence by improving your word pronunciation, here’s your first step: Identify which words you’re not speaking correctly. A good way to determine this is to ask for feedback from a trusted colleague or someone you report to. You might broach the subject by saying “I’m working to improve my communication skills. Currently, I’m focusing on identifying any words I tend to mispronounce. I know I tend to say ‘orientated’ instead of ‘oriented.’ Have you noticed any other words I’m not saying correctly? I really appreciate you being honest with me!”
You can also explore the internet for examples of words that tend to be mispronounced. Read the words on the lists out loud and notice where you tend to slip up. To get started, here’s a list of the top 100, most mispronounced words and phrases in English.
Once you’ve determined a list of words you tend to mispronounce, it’s time to replace the old way of saying the words with the new, correct way. That means choosing one word from your list and committing to practicing it out loud correctly fifty times every day until you speak it correctly. Because repetition, repetition, repetition, builds habit, habit, habit! Then do the same with the next word on the list, and so on. It’s a bit of work, but well worth the polish it gives to the verbal aspect of your executive leadership presence.
You Don’t Have To Go It Alone to Improve Your Executive Presence
It’s not easy to change verbal habits that have taken years to develop. If trying to do it on your own is too challenging, or your Dad isn’t around 24/7 to act like the word police (!) consider hiring a speech coach or an executive presence trainer. They can point out the communication issues that may be limiting you, and help you make changes for the better. So you can step into conversations and presentations with an even greater degree of leadership presence, polish, and confidence.