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Down with Upspeak

Upspeak. You know what that is. We’ve all heard it. That’s what people sound like when they have a habit of making statements sound like questions, when they end clauses or sentences with an upward inflection, practically begging their listeners for confirmation and validation.

This phenomenon is known in linguistic language as high-rising terminal, “uptalk,” or “upspeak.” Research shows that listeners regard people who exhibit upspeak as less intelligent, less confident, less sure of yourself, less trustworthy and even less educated.

And we have been hearing this phenomenon all around us, practiced famously by Valley Girls of course, including Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz character in the movie Clueless, and even Game of Thrones dragon lady Emilia Clarke on Jimmy Kimmel Live, trading her British accent for an upspeaking American known as “Callie from the Valley.”

I was recently in Austin, Texas, obviously one of the epicenters of the tech world, and a bunch of techies I overheard in various places were using upspeak. I’m not sure why, maybe to fit in, to sound like they’re in the tribe, I’m not sure. But it was a thing.

No one knows exactly where – and when – this all began. It has been suggested that this distribution of rising inflection in sentences in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland probably had something to do with the Scandinavian influence there, but that’s just a hypothesis.

What lots of linguists do agree on is it is not the language of business and power, but a lot of people are using it, and it may be even increasing in popularity.

Sharyn Collins, a voice coach and elocution expert, places the blame on our shrinking attention spans.

She believes the rising tones we so often hear are due to people trying to divert their audience’s attention away from their cell phones.

“People are checking as they speak to make sure you’re paying attention,” she says.

In fact, by using upspeak they may be drawing attention to their voices, and not in a good way.

The Voice

When it comes to preparing presentations, most people spend the majority of their time on the content, the words.

That’s a mistake. Research shows 38% of messages are processed based on your tone of voice, your delivery, making how you say something more important than what you are actually saying.

Your voice is a signature, a unique and powerful part of your professional identity and brand.

Does your voice enhance your image – or undermine it?

Get rid of upspeak, and you’ll avoid having other people wonder, “Are you asking me or telling me?”

Successful executive presence

Executives surveyed by a think-tank focusing on maximizing talent potential, identified three core components of a successful executive presence:

1) Appearance

2) Communication skills

3) Gravitas

Successful executives must develop the ability to be clear and concise, to “command a room,” so they can quickly create emotional connections.

When it comes to looking like a leader and sounding like a leader, there’s little leeway for error. Research shows that people make decisive judgments about the credibility and trustworthiness of others in as little as 250 milliseconds.

Developing your best, authentic voice that serves you – and your organization – well, doesn’t come easy. It takes practice and preparation, and maybe even some specialized coaching.

There is a payoff though, because there is a direct connection between how we use our voices and how the world views us. So spend some time finding – and working on – your best voice.