As long as I have done Accent & Voice Coaching, I have always preferred working with clients one-on-one. There are so many reasons: you can go deeper, more personalized, talk about confidential issues in a safe environment, and really tailor the sessions to meet the needs.
The challenges with Coaching are time commitment and cost. You also lose the benefits of the group dynamic, which are many. More recently, I have found that insights of working with individuals over the course of months and years from a wide variety of first language backgrounds: Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, European, for example, have allowed me to come up with principles that apply more universally to all non-native speakers of American English wanting to speak to global audiences.
And equally important, if not more so, people are less interested in having a perfect American Accent and more interested in coming across authentically, clearly, confidently, and powerfully. These qualities speak more to Presence and Voice Quality and less to Accent as a guiding principle.
Of course, as a Coach of thousands of clients over the last 15 years, I can attest to the fact that all of these areas overlap. The interesting thing is that although each individual is different, it is possible to design group sessions that maximize the desirable benefits of personalized coaching and the group dynamic. I would call this “blended learning.”
How Does Blended Learning Look?
Blending can mean different things to different people, so this is how I would define it for Speech, Voice, Accent & Presence Work:
Circular Curriculum: Having topics that are vital and repeat, so if clients miss a session, the topics come up again and again on a weekly basis. Topics can include body/presence areas like posture, mouth movement, breath, and fluidity of motion as well as voice/speech areas like pronunciation, enunciation for clarity, word stress concepts, intonation, and strategic pausing exercises.
One Mind: Often seeing that others are struggling with the same issues bolsters confidence. In coaching, it can feel overwhelming to see all the areas one is weak in, but in a group setting, doing support exercises and sharing feedback is motivating and supportive. You can also build relationships with others to guide future practice and application of what you learn.
True Blending: The Blending comes in by using the group differences to give examples of awareness of various issues and techniques you can use to address them: What works? What doesn’t? How do others experience your communication style? If numerous people give you the same feedback, it gives credence to what might just be a coach’s “hunch.” If everyone has similar issues, it helps individuals embrace the gaps they need to fill. If you are doing something truly unique and different, you will get suggestions and feedback on what that could mean for you. It takes you to the next level more quickly.
Common Issues: Over years of coaching, I have learned that some issues come up again and again; some areas are just more pervasive than others. Going over these areas, together with “best practices” for suggested improvements in a group setting can pave the way for success in future sessions.
Follow Up Coaching: And if group sessions don’t completely fill the need, follow up coaching after group sessions are completed can give more focused direction and feedback to individuals where they need it most.
A Blended Group Session Approach is a great option for companies looking to maximize their investment in their non-native speaking employees who want to get to the next level in their communication, via improvements in presence, voice, and speech.