How to stop an uprising [intonation]March 14th, 2013 by pat-smith | Categories: Articles | Tags: delivery, interviews, intonation, speech, uptalk.
Much has been written on the problem of uptalk, but the uptalk problem persists. As defined in the free dictionary, uptalk is “a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with a rising intonation as though they were questions.” Matt Seaton explored uptalk in the Guardian more than a decade ago in an article examining theories as to its genesis, spread and social purpose.
Why talk about uptalk today? I believe I hear an example a week on public radio of an interviewee undermining his or her messages by using uptalk. Often, the context is a medical, technical or other professional story and the interviewee a subject matter expert, not a practised spokesperson.
A highly talented professional with a story worth sharing deserves to be heard. Uptalk gets in the way.
My high school French teacher was a good-humoured and a philosophical man who used class conversations to impart both language and life lessons to us. His grey hair gave him the necessary gravitas for an advisory role. We listened to our guru and this in the reject-everything 1960s.
He once said that the hardest person to know is oneself. I’ve thought of this many times over the years. We simply cannot see ourselves as well as others can—if we could, we might behave better. Similarly, I’d argue, we cannot hear ourselves very well, either. One might be practising uptalk unawares.
Uptalk is worth listening for in oneself. One needs to know one is uptalking.
Uptalk can suggest to a listener that a speaker lacks conviction, confidence and polish. Often associated with youthfulness, it can affect people of any age group and is easily transmitted to the unwitting. As Seaton reports, you can catch the uptalk habit from the media you consume, or from your kids.
The first step in curing the contagion is diagnosis. Monitor yourself. Do you add imaginary question marks to your declarative statements? If you do, the disease is confirmed. You suffer from uptalk.
You need the cure.
Start to heal by asking yourself why you are excising certainty from your sentences. Are you uptalking out of habit, or to intentionally reach your listeners halfway? Uptalking can suggest to your listener that you are working something out in your mind, but haven’t yet reached a definitive conclusion.
If you exhibit uptalking symptoms out of habit alone, proceed directly to the treatment phase. Listen for it. Censor it. Get your imaginary scalpel in hand. Snip out and toss the question marks away.
If, on the other hand, you truly wish to accomplish a specific purpose by uptalking, find the words and ways you need to achieve that purpose another more professionally palatable way.
To qualify your statements as being under development or tentative, you could use phrases such as, “the evidence I’ve seen so far suggests to me that…” or “my preliminary thoughts are”…
To invite dialogue, participation and the co-construction of ideas, try a more direct approach. “Tell me what you think,” you might ask. Or, “I am interested in hearing other points of view,” you might say.
To position yourself as an open and flexible professional, add warmth to your tone of voice. A little modulation can take care of any unwanted notes of stridency or overbearingness.
To avoid sounding hard-edged or hard-boiled, simply replace overwhelming statements with more emotionally neutral terms; let the warmth and respect you feel for others emerge naturally.
Take heart, uptalker, you can eliminate upward intonation in declarative statements by first striving to hear, then striving to know yourself. You are a smart professional who deserves to be heard.
Things could be worse. I’m trying to expunge the Canadian ‘eh’ from the ends of my sentences in informal conversation. At least you don’t have a horrid hoser habit that’s hard to break.
And even I am making progress, eh?