I am always fascinated by accents and which hold the most gravitas. There have been a number of studies recently on who has the ‘best’ or ‘most sexy’ accents in the UK, with the latest from Big 7 Travel which found that the top five are Essex, Northern Irish, Glaswegian, Queen’s English and Mancunian and the bottom five of 50 are Wolverhampton, West Country, Hull, Gloucestershire and Birmingham.
But I’m most interested in the ones that people find most trustworthy and evoke the greatest sense of leadership. An accent shouldn’t matter if somebody knows what they’re talking about and has the knowledge, experience and kudos to back them. Unfortunately, it does.
Put yourself in a position where you’ve met someone with a distinctive accent. Human nature can mean that we race at lightning speed and make a judgement and opinion on that person, whether consciously or subconsciously. For example, researchers have found that people with a Birmingham accent are seen as less intelligent or lazy, when in reality they could be the world’s leading neuroscientist. By contrast, a recent survey found that someone with a Yorkshire accent is deemed the most trustworthy and reliable, even when they could be a serial killer!
It makes no sense but as humans, we are built to trust and gravitate towards certain accents so this knowledge for leaders is hugely powerful.
In the olden days, the good old Queen’s English was all that littered the airwaves as that was perceived as how you spoke ‘proper’. Thankfully, today our media is filled with amazingly diverse and varied accents representing everyone and anyone who lives in this multi-cultural land. It’s almost archaic to speak ‘posh’ these days as it is seen as out of touch, which is why we see in our leaders a move away from this rhetoric. It was openly known that both Tony Blair and George Osbourne worked with dialect coaches to ‘regional’ up their accents, so they came across as more real and appealed to the common man. Whether that worked or not is a different matter.
Your accent is yours and is unique to you, so I always encourage people not to shy away from it but own it and make it part of your offer, rather than mumbling or swallowing your words, which is what some people do to cover up an accent that they’re embarrassed by.
If you have the ‘lazy’ Brummie droll they rudely speak of, ensure that all your other elements such as projection, controlled breathing, speaking slowly and owning the room are worked on so your wonderful voice and accent is showcased in its best light. You know those people who command to be listened to before uttering a single word – be one of those and let your wonderful accent be part of your offer.
Accents are wonderful. They are rich in character, history and shine a light into you and your background which I find fascinating. Have you ever noticed in a group scenario that fellow accents gravitate towards each other and form a natural affinity whether they mean to or not?
Within my Gravitas masterclasses, we study projection as part of the Gravitas methodology because it is crucial to your success as a leader. There will be times when you have to actively draw attention to yourself to increase your personal impact. Whether in meetings, speaking in public or galvanizing a group behind an idea or message, there will be occasions when you will need to assert your opinion, take centre stage and own the room. The best way to do this is to speak slowly, pause frequently, use short sentences and precision words and make sure you enunciate every syllable, whatever your accent.
There are a host of tips and insight in my Leading with Gravitas book which can be used to work alongside and in harmony with your accent to give you the best Gravitas as a leader in your field.