A couple of weeks ago, I worked with a client who was from Italy. He spoke English beautifully, but whenever I asked him a question, he went into a long “wind-up” of background information before he got to the point.
While that behavior is expected in Italy, he needed to adjust his approach now that he was working for an American multinational corporation. So, I helped him develop a more “American” style of business speaking, with less wind-up.
Yes, American business speaking goes far beyond just speaking English. Here are four characteristics to focus on that will help you achieve more impact with American audiences.
1. Conclusion first
As I alluded to above, “American style” business speaking requires that you get to the point right away. While many cultures prefer a more circular style with plenty of time for background information, Americans tend to have less patience for wind-ups. So remember to give your conclusion first, and then provide the details.
2. Colorful language
Another one of the characteristics of “American style” business speaking is the use of colorful language.
By colorful language, I don’t mean expletives (although that’s certainly not unheard of in some companies). No, I mean vivid, visual language that paints a picture for your audience.
For example, instead of telling your audience how many pages of regulatory documents you deal with, tell them, “I have a stack of papers that go from the floor to the ceiling of this room!”
While other business cultures often speak in more literal, cerebral language, Americans tend to have a little flair for the dramatic. So don’t be afraid to use visual imagery to help explain concepts
3. Plain speaking
A third characteristic of “American style” business speaking is simplicity. Not only will having an inflated vocabulary not score you any points, you may even come across as elitist.
While some cultures value using more formal or academic language, Americans prefer language that is concise and easy to understand. For example, instead of saying “We are doing everything we can to ameliorate the situation,” just say, “improve” instead.
By using plain language, you also will make your speaking more inclusive. Why alienate people who don’t know what the word “ameliorate” means?
4. Even sound patterns
Finally, the “American style” of business speaking typically features a flat pitch. In many countries, speakers frequently change pitch from high to low and back again. In American English, these pitch changes become distracting or “sing-songy.”
I often work on this issue with clients for whom English is a second language, helping them even out their pitch and stretch out their vowels instead.
No matter where you’re from, you can become a powerful speaker in American business. By keeping these four characteristics in mind, you will take your speaking to a new level of power and purpose.