I recently found myself flying from Stockholm to London on British Airways. Looking to pass a few minutes before landing, I flipped open one of the in-flight magazines, Business Life. I was delighted to stumble on an article called “The Art of Speaking American.” For all of my fascination with how other cultures‘ languages and vocabularies shape their experience, now I had a chance to see how other cultures view me.
I was a little surprised by what I found. The article asserts that speaking like an American, which seems to include the accent as well as high volume and high confidence level, leads to greater success in pitching a business idea. The author writes:
American startups need only to possess half an idea to become drenched in Obama levels of oratorial confidence. The rest of us hesitate as we anticipate the holes in our arguments. This may seem trivial, but the idea that simply by speaking American you suddenly become louder, more confident and persuasive may have more bearing on startup success than at first seems likely.
Um, well, I wasn’t expecting that! From my position as an American living in the US, I see businesspeople who run the gamut on confidence and persuasiveness; not all of the successful people I know are compelling orators, and I know some great speakers who don’t necessarily have great business success.
It’s a reminder that while cultures may differ from one another, there are also great individual differences within each culture. Americans as a whole may project greater confidence in speech than Brits or other Europeans, but an individual American may be shy or retiring. It’s a good reminder that while cultural differences do exist (and may feed into the stereotypes we have about groups), there is danger in assuming they apply to any specific individual.