July 24, 2008

Do your sentences float away?



Here's a good reason to record yourself when giving a presentation. Listen to the intonation you give to the ends of your sentences. Does your pitch rise at the end like you're asking a question, even when you're not?

This is a more common speech habit for women, but men do it too. It gives your speech a tentative quality, as though you're asking for assurance or approval. The term for this rising intonation is "uptalk."

Uptalk is common practice in conversation, to let others know that we're still talking, not quite finished with an idea. We're staving off interruption, and when uptalk happens in the middle of a sentence, it's a cue for the listener to wait till the end.

But when your pitch rises at the end of a sentence and you're not asking a question, you're sending a mixed message to the audience. Are you finished? Are you asking for approval, applause, smiles, nods? Maybe you are, but should you?

A couple of articles I read about uptalk suggest that speakers who use it are not necessarily insecure, and are actually confident and assertive in dominating the conversation and inviting response.

However, I don't think that's how most listeners perceive a speaker when every sentence seems to end with a question mark.

Here's an article about uptalk in the Guardian, and a more academic article at Ben Munson's blog, with links to additional research.

Are you an uptalker?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Nick R Thomas said...

This is, like, really annoying? It sounds as if the speaker has, like, no authority? Sitting in a restaurant near people who're usually, like below 35? - and do it, like, all the time during a three-course meal? - can make me want to tear my few remaining hairs out?

There is a spin-off product in the UK, Lisa - people who do actually make statements but then add 'yeah?' on the end every time, just to confirm that their unfortunate listener has understood even the most simple concept.

E.g. 'Lisa Braithwaite writes this public speaking blog, yeah? And her latest entry is about upspeak, yeah? And I posted in the comments, yeah?'

Do they make me want to scream? Yeah!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Nick, I'm trying to fix my own version of "Yeah?" -- when I say "Right?" at the end of sentences in a presentation. I don't know if anyone notices it as much as I do, but it needs to GO.

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