Voices Carry

Anyone looking to get ahead in the business world realizes the importance of articulate speech.
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When Leo Kogan, president of information technology recruiting firm

SANS Consulting Services, realized his accent was preventing him from sparking potential clients' interest on the phone, he knew he needed a solution.

Kogan, a native of Russia, decided to seek out a voice coach.

He was referred to Leigh Dillon (917-699-9286), who has been coaching for more than 20 years. By investing the time to hone his speech, Kogan showed his audience -- and customers -- how important their attention is to him.

Originally, Kogan tried to imitate the English sounds on his own, which proved to be an impossible task. Through exercises Dillon custom-designed for his needs, Kogan focused on learning the standard pronunciations.

As a result of working on his speech, Kogan's confidence has increased, and people respond to him differently. "I am able to get my thoughts across in a way to

quickly engage the person on the other end of the phone," Kogan explains.

Accent on Understanding

Speech training can truly offer a competitive advantage, especially in a field like information technology, which is filled with people from areas such as India, China and Russia.

Accents can often exacerbate language barriers, hurt sales and profitability, prevent effective teamwork, frustrate customers and ultimately lower confidence.

Corporate executives are striving for a voice that is interesting and pleasing to listen to, says Dillon. In our fast-paced business world, there isn't time for constant miscommunication; it becomes frustrating and embarrassing for all parties involved.

While big hitter Jack Welch, ex-CEO of

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

, has vaulted to the top with a thick Boston accent, other executives have been hurt by their accent.

Pascal Kinduelo, a product manager at a Canada-based

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

office, for instance, found that his accent became a nuisance.

Originally from the Congo, Kinduelo would make presentations and find that the audience was focusing entirely on his foreign accent and wondering where he was from rather than listening to what he was actually saying.

It also interfered with his daily duties. "As a product manager, my role is to be able to articulate customers' needs and wants. The only way to do

that is with clear communication," Kinduelo points out.

These problems prompted him to do a search online for accent reduction training, which led him to

The Accent Reduction Institute.

Global Classroom

Through this program, Webcams are used for training, coaching and crucial feedback.

This distance-learning format allows executives in other continents and countries to get personalized instruction and tips, such as how to position one's lips when speaking.

The Accent Reduction Institute also provides all the necessary software and clear examples of teachers modeling the correct sounds. With the video link, teachers can see the students' accuracy and closely monitor their progress.

Additionally, the Accent Reduction Institute also provides live Web-based seminars.

These half-hour sessions focus on the top three sounds of the week and are similar to a Powerpoint presentation but viewed on the participant's computer screen. Participation is limited to 100 people at a time, drawing from speech students all over the world.

"The goal for my clients is to speak without a language barrier. When my students can participate in clear, effective communications and really express their professional expertise without being interrupted, their confidence skyrockets," explains Judy Ravin, president of The Accent Reduction Institute.

Ravin has also developed "

Lose Your Accent in 28 Days." This program includes a textbook, audio CD, idiom glossary and CD-ROM. While the CD-ROM focuses intensely on vowels and consonants, the audio CD reinforces correct patterns of rhythm, stress and intonation.

The software is in use in Fortune 500 companies around the world, including

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

, Cisco and

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

Global Research and Development.

In addition, larger companies can pay for Ravin's private instruction (starting at $100 an hour), which usually falls under the departments of professional development, human resources or training services.

Practice Makes Perfect

"It is extremely important that clients spend the time practicing at home in order to improve," says Everett Leiter, president of

Confident Speech.

With this program, students typically have a weekly hourlong lesson, and most complete the program in 3 1/2 months. Clients can spend from $600 to $3,000, however, depending on the length of the program, Leiter explains. Assignments consist of repeating recordings of words and sentences, reading passages and listening to recorded models.

Leiter has worked with employees from companies including Deloitte & Touche, Lord Abbett and JP Morgan Chase, and in locales such as China, Japan, Russia, Italy, France, Latin America, Singapore and Korea.

Mahmudul Huq, who works for Frantic LLC, studied with Leiter for 10 sessions. "Now, I pay attention to how I speak, but I don't have to worry constantly that people won't understand me," said Huq, originally from Bangladesh.

There are many avenues to take to improve one's speech, and the hard work will pay off when on the phone, giving a presentation or speaking to co-workers.

It may be an intensive process, but the result of clients and colleagues focusing on what one is saying instead of how one sounds is priceless.