Remember“Valley Girl Talk?” No? Well, it’s like, when you speak? And your phrases and sentences, like, end with a rising sound? Like you’re asking a question? Even if you’re actually only making a statement? Just like I’ve been doing for the past six sentences (including this one)? Yep, that’s Valley Girl Talk, otherwise known as uptalk or upspeak. And it’s getting more and more prevalent.
In my coaching practice, I hear uptalkall the time. And not just from women, by the way. But from men. More and more, men, actually. In fact, according to an according to a recently study done at the University of California, San Diego, linguists found that, while young women uptalk almost twice as often as men do, men uptalk a lot. Especially those between the ages of 18 and 22.
At its best, uptalk may be a way for speakers who are sharing or finishing a thought to check in with their listeners and make sure they are being understood, which increases connection. Or it may be a way to add helpful information (“We’re having a car wash? On the corner of Main and Cooper? At 10 am? On Sunday?”) It may also be a way of helping you identify with a peer group, especially if you are a twentysomething and want your conversation to reflect an attitude that is “cool, ironic and uncommitted” (so says linguist James Gorman, when he coined the term uptalk in an article in the New York Times way back in 1993).
At its worst, however, uptalk can makes you sound wishy-washy and weak, robbing you of your authority. By choosing to continuously uplift the ends of your sentences like you’re asking a question when a question is not warranted, you’re giving your listener the impression that you’re not sure of what you’re talking about, and need their affirmation. And it’s a habit that may actually prevent you from being taking seriously in the workplace– especially in the executive suite.
Whenever I run across a coaching client who works in a business environment and has an obvious tendency to uptalk, I gently point it out and suggest they work with me on minimizing it. This is especially important for the women I coach, who are often already struggling to be taken seriously in male-dominated work environments.
There are two phases involved in changing the habit of uptalking. (They correspond, incidentally, to commandments number one and three of my Five Commandments of Great Acting, Great Speaking and Great Leadership, the foundation of Transformational Presence (for a free mini e-series that defines and elaborates the Five Commandments so you can speak with less fear and more confidence, go to my home page and sign up):
Phase One falls under Commandment Number One, Know Thyself: Are you an uptalker? To determine that, ask a good friend or colleague to honestly asses your speech patterns for evidence of uptalk. Another way to do this is to record– and then listen to –yourself while you are giving a presentation or speaking to a small group (or even to one person). Once you’ve determined that you are, indeed, an uptalker, ask yourself when or why it is that you tend to do it? Do you uptalk more when you’re around your circle of friends? Do you uptalk more when you aren’t sure of what it is you want to say, or when you’re feeling pressure to come through under scrutiny? Determining what triggers you to uptalk is key – because awareness seeds behavioral change.
Phase Two falls under Commandment number two, Prepare Thyself: Once you’ve determined that you you uptalk, and have some understanding as to when and why you do, it’s time to practice speaking differently. The way to do this is to take a simple phrase like “Pass me the butter” and to speak it out loud it two ways: First, letting your voice rise at the end as if you are asking a question (uptalk–“Pass me the butter?”) and second, with your voice falling and the sentence ending definitively—otherwise known as a declarative sentence (“Pass me the butter.”) The more you practice speaking in declarative sentences (except for when you’re asking a question, of course), the more natural it will become for you. (Note: For an audio demonstration which illustrates the vocal intonations of this exercise, click this link)
Working with a coach or enlisting a buddy to monitor your progress and hold you accountable for making the change in your uptalk speaking habit can move you along more quickly. But remember: Changing a habit takes around thirty days. So be patient. Be persistent. Your efforts will be rewarded in the long run. Because banishing or limiting uptalk will help you project a greater degree of confidence and authority… which will, in turn, increase your ability to persuade, influence and impact others—on or off the speaking platform.
If you have trouble hearing what I mean by uptalk, click the audio link, above, for an mp3 in which I demonstrate the difference between uptalk and a declarative sentence.