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These articles were prepared for the January 7, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Reducing Your Accent
Ellen Davis is tall, elegant, and commands all eyes in any room at Sotheby’s New York, where she works. She is also an expert on historic manuscripts and is highly valued by her employer. But she will never become an auctioneer. Sotheby’s, the venerable auction house, demands that those who gavel its goods do so in an upper crust British accent. "They figure this style of speech adds 10 percent more to the price of the articles," says Davis. Without a doubt, the right accent is a salable business asset; while a difficult-to-comprehend one is a definite roadblock.
Addressing this issue is Mercer County Community College’s non-credit course "Foreign Accent Reduction." The 10-session class begins on Wednesday, January 14, at 7:30 p.m. Cost: $25. Call 609-586-9446.
This course will be repeated in the spring semester, beginning on May 12. Taught by JoAnn Ficca, president of Associates in Speech and Language at 21 Benford Drive in Princeton Junction, the course has the simple goal of helping speakers of English from around the globe communicate better with one another.
Ficca first experienced the clash of accents when she attended the mid-westerner-rich Penn State University. Having grown up in Queens, New York, and having earned a B.A. in communication arts from Marymount Manhattan College, Penn State proved quite a verbal trauma. "I remember boyfriends laughing at my pronunciation of "idea" versus "idear," she recalls. After gaining her M.A. and Ph.D. in speech pathology and audiology, Ficca worked in clinics in Wisconsin, and then Texas, before settling down in New Jersey in l975. In 1986, she founded her company, which helps individuals with issues ranging from minor accents to severe clinical disorders.
"A person’s accent is the story of their life’s journey," says Ficca. "It shows how their history has blended with the beauty of their mother tongue." Unlike My Fair Lady’s Henry Higgins, Ficca would not bind all English speakers to any single linguistic style. She is a passionate proponent of language’s diversity.
Yet the whole point of speech is to communicate simply and swiftly. As employees pour into Garden State businesses from all over the globe, we are finding that corporate New Jersey encompasses many languages and pronunciations of the mother tongue. We certainly do not want to become speech homogeneous, we just crave a little more understanding.
Who needs "reduction?" Ficca’s classes are always packed. More and more businesses are sending foreign employees to this class as a condition of promotion, be it to jobs more in the public ear, or just in greater supervisory roles. An equal number come as individuals, seeking to take the stress out of daily business and social dealings.
Ficca presents potential students with a question list that includes: Do people ask you frequently to repeat yourself? Are you "hard to hear" on the phone? Do you find oral presentations difficult? Do you have trouble with certain words – particularly proper nouns? Do you avoid English speaking when possible? Are you told that your speech is too soft or too quick?
The music of Americanism. "American speech is like jazz," observes Ficca. It blends the hard consonants of its Germanic heritage with the longer vowels of its Romantic traditions. The foreign speaker must learn this new linguistic melody. This entails getting control of the American syllable – an elusive beast. Most students must not only learn new sound placement within their voices, but must also develop new speaking muscles barely used heretofore.
Ingesting and polishing all this change is no mean feat. Ficca forever counters over-eager employers expecting miracles from her class. "And just how much fluent Chinese could you learn from this student in 20 hours?" she wonders.
The course adds, as she puts it, just a few more bricks to the road. Mastering the new accent and all its amazing idioms takes a lifetime of study.
Goals. The primary benefit of more-communicable speech is confidence. Businesspeople add another weapon to their business and social arsenal. People become people, not confrontations. Meetings are no longer challenges. And slowly, the student begins to hear, then infer, the sound variations between languages. At that point, change comes more quickly.
Prejudice. Ours is an America-centric nation. Understandably, we are proud of our strengths and systems. When you call up a doctor on the phone and you get an Indian accent, a warning light just may go off in your head: Uh-oh, this guy probably does not have a degree from an American medical school – and American medical schools are the best. Better get another doctor. The accent doesn’t even have to be from a foreign land to trigger prejudices in the Northeast, where the ignorant sometimes believe that a southern drawl indicates an intellect less sharp than that attached to the crisp Boston twang.
Rightly or wrongly, we infer from accents. One of Ficca’s students, who came to this country speaking both Spanish and French, noted that when she spoke English with a French accent she got more respect than when she spoke it with a Spanish accent.
Prejudice reduction. Interestingly, Ficca has noted a substantial increase in linguistic tolerance over the last two decades. Yes, those whose accents make them very hard to understand will have a far easier time in business if they can take a bit of their homeland out of their speech. But others may not need to tamper with the accent of their ancestors.
Through the 1980s, Ficca got calls from southerners with thick drawls, from blacks, and from Brooklyn "dese, dem, dose" speakers. All felt it necessary to lose their native accent to get ahead. Ficca even had one client, the employee of a Princeton bank, who was told she must divest herself of her South Philly accent.
"She divested herself of the bank and got another job," says Ficca.
But throughout the 1990s these calls dwindled. Newscasts started featuring accented anchors to break up the verbal monotony. Accents, regional or foreign, became politically romantic. "We live in a wonderful Babel of languages," says Ficca. "We are fortunate to have this heritage and we should all celebrate the diversity."
Sometimes it’s difficult to find markets for new products. Linda Hammond’s biggest challenge with DLH, Inc., which sells first aid kits, "is staying focused. There is not a market you can think of where you can’t use first aid kits. We’re constantly being pulled in different directions." (Hammond owns DLH with her husband, David.)
She says that the kits don’t sell themselves. Not at all. The Hammonds have decided that their best course, and first priority, is to go after the largest companies, and getting a foot in the door is never easy.
Still, the company, with a brand new contract to supply every post office and every postal vehicle in the land, is making progress. A big reason, says Hammond, is its strategy of partnering. She speaks on "Building the Right Relationships to Get to the Next Level" on Thursday, January 15, at 6 p.m. at a meeting of NAWBO, the National Association of Women Business Owners (not to be confused with NJAWBO, the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners) at Branches restaurant in West Long Branch. Cost: $35. Call 732-295-3846.
A native of Glens Falls, New York, and a graduate of Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, Hammond began her career as an inner-city school teacher. After a move to California with her former husband, she spent time raising children before pursuing a passion for interior design. She took courses in the subject on the West Coast, and landed a job with J.C. Penney as a decorator. From there she progressed to management jobs with the company’s custom decorating division, and came to New Jersey as the manager of that division.
Here she met David Hammond, a former Navy Corpsman who had tended to wounded combatants on the battlefield in Vietnam. After leaving the service, he joined a company that contracted to the government, and wrote injury training programs for soldiers in war zones.
He then formed his Tinton Falls-based company, DLH Inc. (www.futureoffirstaid.com; 888-388-4854), which produces kits that are unique in that they combine first aid supplies with first aid training. He found some of his first clients among companies operating in the most unforgiving areas, including off-shore oil rigs.
The Hammonds married 11 years ago, and Linda left J.C. Penney in 1997 to work in her husband’s company full time.
A very big break came last spring when the company, then consisting of just the two of them, landed a $10 million, 10-year contract to supply first aid kits to 55,000 postal service facilities and offices and 250,000 post office trucks.
"The order was huge," says Hammond. It means tremendous growth for the home-based company, which has hired more employees, plans more hiring, and is looking for office and warehouse space in Monmouth County or Ocean County.
The order was also the result of the same methodical, one-step-at-a-time approach to industrial clients that the company has employed from the start. Relationships have been key throughout, and, as Hammond talks, it becomes evident that relationships come in any number of forms:
The inside ally. Most of the industrial corporations Hammond targets already have contracts with one of a handful of companies whose business it is to mount large metal first aid boxes on walls, and to keep them stocked.
Hammond says the product she and her husband have developed is better. Their first aid kits are a series of packages, each one targeting a specific injury – bleeding, breathing, bites and stings, and so on. Each contains supplies along with an instruction card giving simple, easy-to-follow instructions, in picture form whenever possible, explaining what to do in a specific emergency.
The kits may be superior, but, says Hammond, her company gets only so far by singing its own praises. Far better to win a champion within the company, someone, in effect, to do the singing for them.
Identifying this individual is not easy.
"A lot of big companies don’t even know whether first aid is handled by medical or by safety," she says. But, she has found that if her company can get just one corporate trainer or one safety officer excited about their kits, a sale may well follow.
The special-category workforce. DLH’s kits are assembled by developmentally disabled individuals at a workshop in Missouri. This arrangement has a number of advantages. For one thing, when a big order, like the one recently received from the post office, comes in, the relationship with the workshop leads to a whole web of relationships.
Hammond’s contact in Missouri has contacts with a large number of other sheltered workshops, which are able to take on extra work.
She is now building a relationship with the ARC of Monmouth County to use workers in its Work Opportunity Center. With that organization, too, she says, there is a web of relationships able to take on overflow work.
An additional advantage to employers who use disabled workers, Hammond has found, is that this arrangement opens up unique financing opportunities with banks.
The government resources. In preparing its kits, DLH worked "from day one," says Hammond, with the CDC and the National Safety Council. This gave the company an inside track on meeting needs in the field of first aid. The company is now keeping track of the developing needs of the new Department of Homeland Security.
The tech organizations. "Everyone loves our story," says Hammond, "but it’s expensive to get it out." She has sat with PR firms and talked about options, but all have been too pricy for the start-up’s budget. Undaunted, she hit upon the idea of entering every contest held by a technology group in the greater New Jersey/New York area.
In time DLH began to win, and with the wins, says Hammond, came press coverage. Free press coverage. Contacts with reporters also brought the possibility of further story placement.
The clients. Winning big clients is not something that happens all at once. These relationships need more care than any others. DLH generally starts out by placing its products with one division, offering over-the-top customer service, and then selling other divisions. That is the way the company won a contract from Hertz.
"First they gave us Hertz Rental Equipment," says Hammond. "Then car sales, then rental." Eventually, DLH first aid kits became the only first aid kits used throughout the company.
The focus. Coming through for people in all of the relationships it has formed takes focus. Contacts must be maintained. Promises must be kept. Needs must be anticipated.
To do this, DLH tries not to be pulled in too many directions. Hammond says the consumer side of the business is an ever-present temptation. This is especially true as the government urges preparedness, but only 5 percent of American homes contain first aid kits.
The company now sells consumer kits on its website, and is planning more. There will soon be kits for babysitters, for hikesr and bikers off in the wild, and eventually even for pets, says Hammond as she tends to her cat, fresh home from the vet’s office after getting pinned by a falling tree.
Still, it is extraordinarily expensive to reach the consumer market, and the young company does not want to expend too many of its resources there just yet.
Keeping her focus and nurturing existing relationships, Hammond suggests that other start-ups do the same. "You can’t just all of a sudden decide that you want to get to the next level," she says. "You have to start building the relationships that will take you there from day one."
The old sales tricks don’t work anymore. "Buyers are more sophisticated," says John Orvos, Princeton resident and founder of Boston-based SellMasters. "Buyers can quote what techniques you are using."
Orvos speaks on "Four Secrets to Closing Sales Now" on Thursday, January 15, at 6 p.m. at a meeting of Mercer NJAWBO at the Merrill Lynch Conference Center. Call 609-924-7975. Cost: $38.
"Buyers have less time, less patience," Orvos says. For 30 years, salespeople have been trained to ask prospective clients to talk about their businesses, to teach them about their needs. No more. "Now buyers don’t want to be questioned," he says. "It’s a myth that they want to hear salespeople say ‘tell me about your business.’" Buyers have little desire to educate salespeople.
Orvos has made a study of the dance that goes on between client and salesperson. It is his passion. A graduate of Penn State (Class of 1989), where he studied marketing, he went to work for publishing company R.R. Donnelley. There he sold to major accounts. He says he enjoyed the work and was good at it.
Yet, by 1995, the song of the tech start-up siren was too beguiling to ignore, and he joined four friends in forming a new tech company. Called Image Info Inc., it developed and sold catalog software to retailers. "They did tech," he says of his partners. "I did the sales."
The company grew to 80 employees before Orvos and his partners sold it in 2000 to QRS Inc. for $45 million.
In that same year, Orvos married a children’s counselor, Lisa Orvos, moved from Manhattan to Princeton, wrote a book, "The Four Faces of Sales," and founded another company, SellCoach. In July of 2002 he started SellMasters (www.sell-masters.com). Originally, the former company was involved in training and consulting to big companies. Clients included Bloomberg, Northwest Mutual, and R.R. Donnelley. The business-to-business side of his new company established, Orvos branched out, offering sales training directly to salespeople.
He has now sold SellCoach, and SellMasters has morphed into a hybrid, offering sales training both to individuals and to companies, although Orvos says the bulk of its business is in training salespeople for companies.
SellMasters has a 10-person staff in Boston, and Orvos says he no longer has much of an administrative role. He devotes his time to training sales trainers. He sees himself as primarily a teacher, passing along techniques that will help salespeople to enter into a perfectly orchestrated conversation with potential clients.
In this market, salespeople can use all the skill and confidence they can get. Spending is increasing, but only gradually. Salespeople report that their clients are optimistic about their ability to make purchases as the year progresses, but as of the end of 2003 were still holding back.
"Decision making is based on risk, value, and confidence," he says. A good salesperson can explain value and give a customer confidence in a product, but, says Orvos, "even great salespeople are having problems with risk because of the economy."
The key question for all salespeople now, he says, is "`How do I motivate my buyer to buy?’" His book, "The Four Faces Sales Process," forms the outline of his sales advice:
Shift focus from product to "faces." The salesperson who best executes the Four Faces sales process will win sales over the ‘product focused’ salesperson. Product focused salespeople are typical and sell by conducting presentations and product demos, often hiding behind rehearsed pitches. Buyers are used to seeing this approach from salespeople. The Four Faces salesperson offers a different experience for the buyer, because the focus is on the sales process rather than the product.
In his own sales career, Orvos noticed that a particular demeanor was most effective at different stages of the sale. He studied these successful mannerisms over time and developed his own technique. As he refined this technique, he applied a face that represents these behaviors at each stage of the sale. He calls them: The Face of the Sleuth, The Face of the Bull, The Face of the Doctor, and The Face of the Superhero.
The sleuth. The first face is like that of a sleuth and is always the first step of any sales effort. Here, the goal is to uncover leads through diligent and detailed investigation. The sleuth investigates and searches to find new potential customer leads.
The bull. The second face is like that of a bull who charges forward to contact these leads without intimidating them. The bull’s goal is to generate the potential customer’s interest and set a meeting for the doctor face.
The doctor. The third face is like that of a doctor who meets with the prospects to determine their needs and to offer a solution. The doctor methodically questions the prospect to diagnose his needs and to collaborate in developing his solution.
The superhero. The fourth face is like that of a superhero who possesses the special courage and coolness needed for the last step of the sales process, to close the sale. In cartoons, we believe in the courage and confidence of the superhero, who fights to ‘save the world.’ Similarly, companies rely upon this superhero salesperson to close the deal.
Orvos says it is crucial to proceed toward a sale in steps. Timing is everything. "The question is not what to do, but how to do it," he says.
Teaching the steps of this dance remains his passion. Business for his training company is good, the former tech star says. Life is good too. He and his wife had their second child, a little girl named Kylie, right before Thanksgiving. She joins Jace, who is 18 months old.
Georgina Donovan, author of an article entitled "Is Your Bra Killing You?," has mentored any number of corporate women whose conundrums go way beyond the effectiveness of their undergarments. Growing up in a lively, fashion-centric Brooklyn family, she yearned for a career on the stage, but settled for several decades with New York Telephone and its successors, rising to the position of director of training, but never abandoning her theatrical instincts.
Donovan speaks on "Business Protocol and Etiquette in the 21st Century" on Saturday, January 17, at 9 a.m. at Mercer County Community College. Cost: $30. Call 609-586-9446.
"My mother was the youngest of 10 children," she recalls. "She and her sisters were fashion czarinas. One was a Ziegfield Follies girl." A cousin was a Rockette, who also danced at the Metropolitan Opera. "I was involved with fashion and clothes since I was a kid," she recalls. The theater was another powerful influence. After graduating from Brooklyn College in the 1960s, she headed straight for Broadway. Unable to find work on the New York stage, she took off for London.
"The only job I could get was wardrobe mistress," she says. She told the theater she had experience. In the days before E-mail and faxes, she figured no one would seek out transatlantic confirmation. She was also asked if she had experience with make-up. There she felt on more secure footing in bending the facts. "It wasn’t a lie," she says. "I put on make-up every day."
She got the job and loved every minute of it, but before long her parents summoned her back to "real life" in New York. "I was a nice Italian girl," she says. "They wanted me to get a job with corporate America." She acquiesced, planning to work for a year to earn enough money to support another go at a career on the stage.
It would be "several marriages and several careers" before she would close in on her dream again.
Her longest running corporate gig was with the phone company, where she began as a customer service rep, a trainer, and then the head of training for the human resources department. "With my theatrical background I was a great trainer," she recalls.
When not actually putting on workshops, she often handed out advice in the ladies’ room. Co-workers gravitated toward her energy and sense of style. ("I was named best dressed employee," she says.) She helped co-workers prepare presentations, figure out what to wear for important client meetings, and sort out the complications of office relationships.
After retiring from New York Telephone, which by then was Nynex on its way to becoming Verizon, she went into consulting, taking on assignments for Lucent and, on the West Coast, for Pacific Bell. "I did a lot of Y2K conversions," she says, explaining that it was her role to put together training programs for telecom workers on how to handle the millennium’s technology challenges.
At the same time, her head was never very far from the softer side of corporate life. "I wrote a book, the ‘Women’s Survival Guide to Y2K’," she says. It spoke not so much about computer systems, but rather took on business etiquette issues looming in the new century. She only regrets that she was a bit late in writing the book. "Had I done it in 1998, it would have been a best seller," she says.
Had she not been so busy, thick in the things during the end-of-century telecom boom, she might have gotten her book out earlier. By the next year, she had plenty of time. "The bottom fell out of telecom in 2001," she says.
The bust was an opportunity for her to go all the way back to the passion of her youth. Her husband, Jim Donovan, a motivational speaker and author of five books, including "Handbook to a Happier Life," urged her to do so. "He quoted Emerson," she recounts. "He said ‘Too many die with their music still in them.’"
Deciding that route was not for her, she founded the Clothes Doctor (www.theclothesdoctor.com) toward the end of 2001 in her Bucks County home. She started to do workshops and seminars, teaching the basics not only of dressing for success, but also of maximizing image and of mastering the business etiquette of the 21st century.
She does individual consultations, and increasingly is in demand put together and teach classes at local colleges and to business groups.
Many of those she addresses are returning to the workplace after a decade – or two or three – at home. They are finding a vastly altered workplace, with new rules and mores aplenty. Here is some of her advice for navigating smartly:
Invest in a classic wardrobe. "You need five pieces," she says, "five good pieces." A woman who has a top quality, dark color jacket, skirt, pair of pants, blouse, and sweater is ready for anything. Mix and match, and the basics can cover everything from a job interview to an evening out with a client.
"The sweater should be absolutely the best you can afford," she says. Perhaps something thin, maybe in cashmere, and definitely in a neutral color. The other pieces of the wardrobe should be top quality too. "Put quality ahead of quantity," is her commandment.
One more thing on the clothing front: Make sure that the fit is impeccable. But when in doubt, go a little bit looser. "You should be able to sit down comfortably," she says. "Nothing should look like a bologna wrapper."
Different industries have very different dress codes. Donovan has a cousin who designs hosiery, and who goes to work in micro-minis and a little leather jacket. That works for her, but would be wildly inappropriate in a law firm.
Deflect hits as gracefully as possible. During her years in corporate America, Donovan saw plenty of examples of overt sexual harassment and was a target herself. "One boss told me that I would definitely get a promotion if I had an affair with him," she recounts. She replied that no job meant so much to her that she would prostitute herself for it.
"It happens very, very frequently," she says. Even today, with vastly heightened awareness of the penalties for sexual harassment, women are often put in difficult situations.
"What do you do when a client hits on you?" she asks. "If you pour water on his head, you lose your job. You have to defuse. You have to be very subtle."
If the behavior occurs over a meal, leave the table, she suggests. If it continues when you return, state that you would rather talk about something else. If the client won’t give up, tell your boss.
Sometimes, the boss, eager to hang on to an important client, will downplay the situation. When that occurs, says Donovan, "you need to re-think where you’re working."
Let nine-to-five love alone. Donovan thinks love and work don’t mix. She admits that this is a tough one. "Women have so few places to meet men," she says. Still, in her experience, the angst of an office affair gone bad is not worth the pleasure it can bring.
She offers some outright caveats: Absolutely, positively do not date the boss, and absolutely, positively do not date a subordinate. Oh, and under no circumstances at all consider dating anyone in any position who is married. Beyond that, she says a relationship with someone in another department can work out. But still, she insists that all romantic behavior take place way away from office property. Do not linger at your lover’s desk. Do you shoot him loving looks during meetings. Do not, in short, make yourself fodder for office gossip.
Master the art of business lunches. Donovan has some hard and fast lunch rules. "Do not drink," is one of them. Not only is the two-martini lunch out of style, but she insists that even a glass of wine or a beer is a bad idea. She suggests sparkling water or ice tea served in a stem glass. "Booze and work do not mix," is her firm rule.
Similarly, barbeque ribs and talk of a merger do not go well together. "Pick something that is easy to eat," she suggests. You do not want to have to concentrate on cracking open crabs while holding a business conversation.
As for who pays for this neat, abstemious meal, she says the person who issues the invitation – whether male or female – picks up the check. When two people come up with the lunch idea in tandem, split the check in half. She warns those who order only a side salad not to calculate their share of a meal enjoyed with a steak and dessert-eating companion.
"Never, ever say ‘mine was $3.75, yours is $15,’" she insists. And no matter how much is left on the plate, never, ever request a doggie bag. "That is so not with it," she declares.
Lunch can be a minefield, but it can also be a stellar opportunity to showcase business smarts. She chooses a restaurant carefully, generally opting for a mid-range spot, neither greasy spoon nor the most expensive place in town.
"I always go to the restaurant the day before," says Donovan. She looks for a table in a quiet corner, asks the maitre d’ to reserve it for her, and hands him her business card. More times than not, she will be recognized, addressed by name, and led to her prime table.
Clients, she says, tend to be impressed, and to think "`if she handles lunch this smoothly, I can trust her to handle my business smoothly.’" Lunch, says Donovan, "is not just about food."
Watch your E-etiquette. After enjoying a business lunch paid for by a client, do by all means send a thank-you note. Yes, a note, not an E-mail. "The two times you never send an E-mail is for a thank you and for bereavement," declares Donovan, who got no fewer than 20 E-condolence messages when her mother died. She didn’t appreciate them, and suggests that no one else will either. E-mail is too breezy for expressing sympathy – or gratitude.
Donovan says that in nearly every office, using the company’s E-mail to send personal messages is a no-no. In some offices, surfing the Internet for news or shopping online is against the rules. Using the office fax for personal business is often frowned upon as well.
Donovan suggests that new employees request a copy of rules regarding the use of electronic devices, and then abide by them.
From avoiding messy entrees at lunch and messy romances at the office, to staying on the right side of the new E-etiquette, Donovan has 21st century office life covered right down to its foundations.
Oh, and speaking of foundations, she points out that some 85 percent of women work in bras that do not fit properly, thereby ensuring less than maximum comfort – and potential circulation problems too, a hindrance in the climb toward the corner office.
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