Language Blog

Upspeak is Not Speaking Up

Upspeak is NOT Speaking Up Upspeak ( Uptalk) had its beginning in the era of the Valley Girl in California. It has since spread its tentacles across the years to wrap around the speaking habits of both women and men of all ages. Why is this phenomenon significant? Because Upspeakers unknowingly compromise the quality of the competent, knowledgeable leadership image that they want to project.

Columnist Hank Davis writes, in The Uptalk Epidemic,

“It’s a nasty habit. It is the very opposite of confidence or assertiveness. It’s gotten all out of control. These days, even statements about which there should be no question or doubt are presented in this tentative, timid and deferential manner.”

When statements and assertions sound like questions, your credibility and competence can be doubted. When you give advice or offer an educated assessment of a set of facts, the perception of your expertise gets chipped away when you sound like you are asking a question. Would you want to be represented by or rely on the advice someone who sounds unsure and tentative? Tentative is the dark side of Confident. Your voice should reflect everything you want your listener to believe about you. You have substance. You are in control. You are knowledgeable. You have the answer….not that you are unsure of yourself and are seeking validation.

In less than a second, the time it takes to say “hello,” we make a snap judgment about someone’s personality, says Jody Kreiman, a UCLA researcher who studies how we perceive voice. On hearing just a brief utterance, we decide whether to approach the person or to avoid them. I would add that in that same split second, we decide if that person has “gravitas” and has the expertise to solve our problem, address our concerns, represent our interests.

I’ve personally witnessed Upspeak at the highest levels of Fortune 100 companies, and I’ve heard it used as a reason to deny a promotion or discredit an idea. A wise career move is to take the time to analyze your own speaking patterns and snuff out Upspeak. Record yourself in a variety of speaking situations and LISTEN objectively. Become your own audience. Elicit feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. To be perceived as a leader and person of substance, you must not only LOOK like a leader with a polished physical image, you must also SOUND like a leader with a polished Vocal Image.

Behaviors and Business Etiquette to discuss with Accent Students in the Workplace

One thing that comes to mind is not letting a speaker know that you are listening. We do this with words, sounds, and phrases like ah huh, yeah, I know what mean, of course, right, oh definitely, for sure, I hear you, absolutely.

This is something one of my clients asked me to talk about with his employees: let people know you are listening.

And on the phone, when a customer stops talking, the customer usually expects you to, then, say something. Silence, or “dead air” is unsettling. It makes one wonder if anyone is listening. A direct question is not the only way we indicate that we now expect the listener to say something. Not observing turn-taking cues could go on the list.

1) Not observing turn-taking cues – allowing there to be silence or “dead air”
2) Not acknowledging that one is listening
3) Saying “yes” when one really means “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”.
4) Unknowingly taking a tone that sounds to direct and bold
5) Seeming impersonal or unfriendly when one might really be shy and not know what to say
6) Only saying what is necessary and getting straight to the matter at hand without any of the usual small talk – seeming to be in too much of a hurry to move on – impersonal(Another consultant made note of this when speaking of a client we both have.)

American Television Can Help Improve Language Skills

While traveling in Europe, I couldn’t help noticing how many people are comfortable and fluent in American English.  Upon further investigation, I learned that a most have acquired English fluency through watching American sitcoms and movies and picking up the ‘’flow’’ of casual conversation.  To improve your fluency and comprehension of any language, take advantage of your tv.  For casual conversation, watching sitcoms is great, but when you really want to polish your business and professional English for a greater career advantage,  tune in to your local news broadcasts.  American broadcasters are ‘’the people from nowhere’’ with no recognizable accent of any kind.  Their grammar, diction, and presentation skills are excellent models for those seeking to improve their fluency and comfort with American English.  Watch for speech patterns, intonations, and body language as well as for vocabulary and grammar and you will quickly improve the quality of your spoken communication. As a bonus, you will also be able to model the correct pronunciation of many local place names, which are only known by the locals.  An example?  NEWark in New Jersey but newARK in Delaware.  

Vocal Charisma Vocal Presentation 4 Big Points

What is vocal charisma? How can I be more charismatic? There’s no one right way to be charismatic. This is what you should do:

  • Use a wide pitch range. Practice using the lower end and higher end of your voice.

Power your presentation.

  • Use variations in pitch as you speak: manipulate your vocal range.
  • Use pausing for effect and emphasis.
  • Use variations in speech rate.
  • Use lower, middle, and higher vocal volume.

This is what you should not do: Do not speak with a narrow and flat pitch range. Do not speak too fast. Speech that is flat and monotonous will bore your audience and cause them to only listen to you because they have to listen to you, not because they want to listen to you. It might even be annoying. Speech that is too fast sounds hurried and impatient. Speech that is too quick and inexpressive diminishes people’s perception of how confident you are. Speech that is both too fast and flat will be difficult for your audience to understand.

Vocal Range

Your vocal range is higher than others and lower than others. That does not matter. The idea is to practice using the full pitch range of your voice, not someone else’s.

Use the lower end of your pitch range to sound more dominant. Lower tones are more serious. You can sound more authoritative and serious with the lower end of your pitch range, not the lower end of someone else’s pitch range. The higher end of your pitch range can make you sound more enthusiastic or energetic. Higher tones can sound more easygoing or more deferential.

Vocal Strength

You need vocal strength. Take deep breaths to gain more vocal power. Let the air fill your lungs and stomach. Let your breath out as you speak. When you pause, or finish a phrase, take another breath. Monitor how much you are able to say in one breath. Do not try to say more than your breath allows you to say. Be sure you have enough breath, or air, to maintain vocal strength. Practice taking deep breaths. Use the air to power your voice as you speak.

Personalize Speech

Adjust your speaking style to your audience. Personalize vocal qualities and build expressive speech patterns to captivate, convince, and hold your listeners’ “involuntary attention”. Use vocal nuance: experiment with intonation contours.

Use a much wider pitch range and a more emotive voice for larger audiences or larger groups. Use a voice that is less emotive, still maintaining a wider pitch range, when speaking one-to-one or with just a few people. Pay attention to your audience and how they take in what you say. Adjust your delivery to your audience.

Involuntary Attention Vocal Charisma

Charismatic professional communication means people listen and pay attention because they want to listen and pay attention, not because they have to. If you can hold your audience’s “voluntary attention”, that’s good. If you can hold your audience’s “involuntary attention”, that’s great. When business communication is strong and appealing, people do not know that they are paying attention, and this means you have their “involuntary attention”. That means you are a charismatic speaker.

Here is the Impact four-point big picture concept for vocal presentation

  1. Neutral or Unmarked Intonation
  2. Non-neutral or Marked Intonation
  3. Expressiveness and Tone of Voice
  4. Vocal Charisma