As a speaker, you have an obligation to connect with your audience, to show them you understand who they are, where they’re coming from, and what matters to them. One small way to signal your other-orientedness is to learn how to pronounce other people’s names correctly.

This Politico.com article notes that President Obama does just that. His briefings and prepared remarks include phonetic spellings of names and places. He practices foreign leaders’ names before public statements. He adopts local pronunciations of certain words, like Pakistan, Muslim, and Chile. When he sprinkles foreign phrases into speeches aimed at foreign audiences, he gets coaching to get the pronunciation as close to right as he can.

This attention to pronunciation detail is both good diplomacy and good speechmaking:

“It sends a signal that he tries to see the world from their perspective,” said former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers, who noted that while some Americans may not like it, “I think he thinks there’s more to be gained than lost by reaching out in this very subtle way.”

…Those efforts don’t just signal respect to outsiders, but shows employees inside the government, specifically at the State Department, noted Mike McCurry, a former Clinton press secretary, “that the president takes detail seriously.”

“And that has a positive impact on morale in our own government,” McCurry said, “an added benefit to the clear benefit to public diplomacy” [Carol E. Lee, “Barack Obama: A Stickler for Pronunciation,” Politico.com, 2009.07.03].

The attention you pay to correct pronunciation, especially to something as important to people as their own names, says a lot about you, your attention to detail, and your awareness of your audience.

As the President says, “When your name is Barack Obama, you’re sensitive to these things.”

Expect similar sentiments from my daughter Katarzyna.

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