The key finding I’d like to discuss here concerns the assumptions we make about people based on how they speak.
As any researcher, I went into the study with an open mind, yet I had certain hunches about what I thought would be important to people. For example, I had always – perhaps subconsciously – assumed that pronunciation was something important to people, particularly in the context of business, and I also thought it was part of what people associated with the criteria of ‘being a professional’. Now, I couldn’t say with complete accuracy where the roots of this presumption were, but perhaps the clear-cut, shiny image of a corporate professional in the media had always appeared before me with clear English and correct pronunciation. It is a separate matter that this idea has not been given support by own experiences of the corporate world, where actually the CEO of the first company I worked for in London broke the stereotype and was hugely successful and engaging.
When the results were collated, it turned out that the importance attributed by the participants to tone was more than double the importance given to pronunciation. In fact, even though 43% of the participants held pronunciation as ‘Important’ or ‘Very important’ in determining their engagement with a speaker, pronunciation still sat at the bottom of the pile, with speed and volume being deemed significant by a higher number of the participants.