How to speak well and achieve career success

In the competitive corporate world, effective elocution could very well be the passport to career success.

That's where former Gold 90.5FM radio broadcaster Jessica Seet comes in. She set up vocal- training company Art of Voice to help professionals - ranging from lawyers to global CEOs - maximise their vocal prowess.

In this second part of a series on good role models for English, My Paper speaks with her on how to avoid language slip-ups and ways to improve one's English.

Why is it important for working adults to speak good English?

Ninety per cent of your work is about communication. If you don't speak well, it can lead to a lot of problems, misunderstandings and unhappiness. Sometimes the tone in which you say something can also unwittingly lead to a conflict.

I've had clients who faced difficulties with their bosses because their tone was seen as disrespectful, antagonistic and arrogant, when the truth is, they're really the nicest people you could ever meet.

Rapport in the workplace is very important, and if people don't like you from the sound of your voice, life is going to be very difficult. Being able to communicate exactly what you mean can be life-changing.

What do you think of the radio as a resource for picking up good English?

People should make a conscious effort to listen to good English, and they can definitely do this by listening to the radio.

Channels like the BBC or interesting current-affairs programmes can help one pick up the usage of good English. It's a good starting point.

On top of listening to good English, I'd take it one step further, and emulate it. Even today, if I listen to something beautifully said, I'd repeat it out loud.

Tell us about an interesting language slip-up you've come across.

I had a Taiwanese client who was so happy and excited she was going to Africa, she said: "I can't wait to see the erotic animals!"

She meant "exotic"!

What are some common language mistakes made by executives and professionals?

They lie largely in pronunciation, such as making the tip-of-the-tongue sounds.

Most people tend to mix up the singular and plural - the "s" is placed where it shouldn't be, and when there's supposed to be an "s" sound, they just cannot produce it.

Take the word "inconvenience", for example. The "ce" should be pronounced as an "s", but people tend to be unable to produce the "ce" - so they end up saying "inconvenien".

Another mistake is related to the "s" and "z" sounds; people just have no clue when to pronounce the sounds, so they either misproduce it or put it where it shouldn't be. A lot of times, they say "courzes" instead of "courses".

The same goes for ending sounds - instead of saying "five", most tend to say "fie".

What is your pet peeve when itcomes to the use of English?

I get the heebie-jeebies when I hear poor pronunciation. Poor pronunciation can completely distort meaning and make you sound incoherent, and, for me, that's a deal-breaker.

One of the tips from this year's Speak Good English Movement is "Get help to arrest your mistakes" Do you agree?

Absolutely. A client who was a high-level consultant once told me that for years he always wondered why he never sounded as polished, professional and credible as he thought he was, even though his English is always grammatically near-perfect.

After picking up all the little (speech) tools we taught him, he told me that it was because he couldn't correct his mistakes himself.

So, get help from someone.

When you're impressed by someone who spoke well, try to understand what he just did, and ask how you can do it as well.

What is the best thing about your job as a voice and speech coach?

That it helps change lives. When our clients take lessons away from our programmes to create quality presentations that are much sharper, it's as though we give them back a sense of pride.

It's also very fulfilling when people start to enjoy communicating, instead of hating or fearing it terribly. A lot of them are always terrified of speaking out because they feel they don't make sense, speak too fast, mumble, or have poor pronunciation.

When we give them the exact solution and tools with which to correct each issue, they get more excited about speaking up.