Tag Archives: uptalk

Uptalk . . . Ugh

The Disease of Uptalk
Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility Question by Question

The verbal up-tic is a ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.  Its most common manifestation is Uptalk.

Once it grips you, Uptalk won’t let go . . .

It’s maddening.

Everyone who is exposed to this voice experiences doubt, unease, and irritation, many of those persons not cognizant of where this unease originates.

It screams amateur when used in formal business presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility

If you have this affectation – if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.  But recognize that it’s not that easy.

Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.

But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling uptalk?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

Uptalk is the rhetorical scourge of the 21st century.

Uptalk is the unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt . . . and it conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

On and on.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.

This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.

The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, someone calling herself Kim Kardashian is the main carrier of this virus.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon in popular youth-oriented television.

Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalking.  Reality television females, as a breed, express themselves no other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.

And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power and personal competitive advantage.  Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.

Then come to grips with it for an especially powerful presentation.

For more on correcting the uptalk pathology and building a credible business presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

List-Talk . . . a Bad Presentation Habit

List-Talk: Bad Presentation Habit
Don’t Deliver Your Presentation as if Read from a List

Everyone knows about the atrocious speech pathology called Uptalk, but there’s another speech pattern that sounds much like uptalk and can be a more insidious bad presentation habit.

Let’s call it List-Talk.

Both pathologies must be fixed to lift your presentation skill to a professional level.

Here’s the difference between the two pathologies, both of which can sabotage your presentation.

No Need for Self-Sabotage

First, Uptalk.

Uptalk is the bad speech habit of inflecting the voice up at the end of each sentence, as if each sentence were a question.

Uptalk is usually a 24-7 transgression.  If you do it . .  you do it all the time.

Uptalk is breezy, addle-pated, and weak.  With uptalk, you sound air-headed, uncertain, ditzy.  Whiny and pleading.  Someone who doesn’t care.

You could fix uptalk easily, if you wanted to.

But at this point, if you’re still doing it, you probably don’t want to fix it.

Now look at a parallel speech pattern that sounds similar to uptalk.  This pattern appears only on special occasions.

List-Talk only shows up when it can hurt you.

Break this Bad Presentation Habit  Now

What is List-Talk?

You engage in List-Talk only when you deliver your business presentation.

Exactly when it does you the most damage.

List-Speak is the lilting presentation voice we sometimes assume when we give a presentation.  It’s a form of “presentation voice.”  Presentation Voice is an artifice some people unconsciously adopt when speaking to a group in a formal situation.

Especially when we’re attuned to reading slides instead of simply telling our story.

List-Talk creeps in.  It replaces direct, declarative sentences.

Bad Presentation Habit
List-Talk can drive an audience crazy

List-Talk offers the lilting upswing of the voice at the end of sentences.

As if you’re reading from a mental list.

Each sentence needlessly telegraphs that there’s more to come, that you’ve not yet completed a thought.

Again.  And again.

And this goes on endlessly, until you finish the last point from your slide.  Only then do you mercifully let your voice drop in completion . . .

. . . only to have it go up again as the next slide materializes.

This pathology is linked to your slide.  But it’s not the slide’s fault.

It’s not the fault of PowerPoint.

It’s your fault.

It’s 100 percent your fault.

Fix List-Talk Now

Is anything wrong with List-Talk?

No, not unless your audience enjoys the experience of listening to someone obviously not in possession of the facts . . . because this is the impression given.

What causes it?

Nothing more than tendency to read from your slides.  This is a bad presentation habit heinous in its own right, but more than that, when you read from your slides, your voice goes into List-Talk mode.

You inflect UP at the end of every POINT.  You move from BULLET POINT to BULLET POINT.  The slide itself drags you ALONG.

This lilting presentation voice takes HOLD OF YOU, and you aren’t even aware of what you’re DOING.

Unharness yourself from the visual behind you, and free yourself to speak in declarative sentences.

Drop your voice at the end of each declarative sentence.

Speak with finality as you complete the thought.  As a hammer clanking down upon an anvil.

With confidence and presence.  Just as you do in routine conversation.

Your daily conversations, after all, don’t consist of lists.  Your sentences don’t consist of stating facts and opinions as if numbered on a list.

Break the bad presentation habit of List-Talk right now.

And consult the Complete Guide to Business Presentations for more wisdom on delivering especially powerful business presentations.

Stop Uptalk for Presentation Credibility

Uptalk Girl -- Stop Uptalk
Stop Uptalk!

Stop Uptalk.

That’s it.

It’s just that simple to gain substantial credibility from virtually any audience.

Yes, you can stop uptalk for presentation credibility . . . but given the prevalence of this ugly vocal habit, it’s apparently not easy to give up.

Foregoing other bad habits might be easier . . .

Stop chewing tobacco.

Stop Thursday and Friday Happy Hour.  Give up refined sugar and white bread.  Go organic.  Become vegan.

All well and good, but none of those things will help your presentation credibility.  Few behavior changes can do you as much good as stopping Uptalk.

Stop Uptalk.

The Uptalk Pathology

Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences that transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.

As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation.  Looking for others to nod in agreement.  Yes, maddening . . . and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.

It screams amateur when used in formal presentations, a time when we most want and need to be taken seriously.

Uptalk cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.  I’m not invested in this exercise at all.”

Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.

Uptalk conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

Uptalk  =  “I don’t know what I’m talking about”

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix this.

In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology.  If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.

For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

So Stop Uptalk!

And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

Evaluate your own speech to identify the up-tic.

Then come to grips with it, and, you know . . .

Eliminate it.  Totally.

For a wealth of energizing instruction on exactly how to craft especially powerful presentations and stop uptalk, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Business Case Competition – Winning

Business Case Competition for Personal Competitive Advantage

I helped to judge a series of business presentations in a business case competition earlier this week, and I offer here several observations.

The case in question involved financial analysis and required a recommended course of action.

In terms of presentation substance, I find these types of finance-based competitions of high caliber, with fine-grained and sophisticated analysis.

And I expect it . . . these are top-notch MBA students with work experience and especially powerful motivation to not only invest in a rigorous MBA program but to put their skills to the test publicly in the fire of business case competition.

The Finance Business Case Competition

My colleagues, who specialize in the wizardry of finance, ensure that no idle comment goes unchallenged, no misplaced decimal escapes detection.  That no unusual explanation goes unexplored.

At the higher-level finals competition, this fine-toothed comb catches few errors . . . because few errors exist to be caught.  These are top-notch students, imbued with a passion for the artistry of a company’s financial structure and operations.  Along this dimension, the teams are relatively well-matched.

But stylistically, much remains to improve.

And if you believe that  “style” is somehow unimportant, you err fatally with regard to the success of your presentation.

By style, I mean all of the orchestrated elements of your business presentation that combine to create the desired outcome – emotional involvement with your message, a compelling story, and acceptance of your conclusions – all explained in an especially powerful way that transmits competence and confidence.  And in this sense, style becomes substance in a business case competition.

So, while the substantive content level of the top teams in competition is often superb, style differentiates the finest from the rest and can determine the competition winner.

To enter that top rank of presenters, note these common pathologies that afflict most teams of presenters, both MBA students and young executives.

1)  Throat-clearing

I don’t mean actual clearing of the throat here.  Unfortunately, many teams engage in endless introductions, expressions of gratitude to the audience, even chattiness with regard to the task at hand.  Get to the point.  Immediately.  State your business.

Deliver a problem statement . . . and then your recommendation, up-front.  With this powerful introductory method, your presentation takes on more clarity in the context of your already-stated conclusion.

2)  Lack of confidence

Lack of confidence is revealed in several ways, some of them subconscious.  Uptalk, a fad among young people, undermines even the best substance because of its constant plaintive beg for validation.  Dancing from foot to foot, little dances around the platform, the interjection of “you know” and “you know what I mean” wear away the power of your message like a whetstone.

3)  Unreadable PowerPoint slides

The visuals are unreadable because of small fonts and insufficient contrast between numbers/letters and the background.  Ugly spreadsheets dominate the screen to no purpose.  This sends the audience scrambling to shuffle through “handouts” instead of focusing attention on the points you want to emphasize.  You have created a distraction.  You have created a competitor for your attention that takes focus off your presentation.

4)  Ineffective interaction with visuals

Rare is the student who interacts boldly with his or her slides.  Touching the screen, guiding our eyes to what is important and ensuring that we understand.  Instead, we often see the dreaded laser pointer, one of the most useless tools devised for presentation work (unless the screen is so massive that you cannot reach an essential visual that must be pointed out).

The laser pointer divides your audience attention three ways – to the presenter, to the slide material, and to the light itself, which tends to bounce uncontrollably about the screen.  I forbid the use of laser pointers in my classes as a useless affectation.

I have said that the business case competition no time for modesty or mediocrity.

The Business Case Competition is your chance to demonstrate a wide range of corporate business skills in a collaborative effort.  You receive recognition, valuable experience, sometimes monetary reward, and perhaps an open door to corporate employment.

Work on correcting the most common errors, and you have started the journey to competition excellence.

See The Complete Guide to Business Presenting for an entire chapter on winning case competitions.

Improve Your Speaking Voice

Improve your speaking voice for powerful presentations
Improve your speaking voice for powerful presentations

You can improve your speaking voice to become a first-rate business presenter, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Some folks get skittish and think the voice they have now is somehow “natural” and should not be tinkered with.

No, your voice isn’t  “natural” in any meaningful sense.  In fact, its qualities are likely the result of years of chaotic development and influence from many factors.

Why not seize control of that development process and begin to improve  your speaking voice today?

Improve Your Speaking Voice

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad.  And all sorts of voices fit in-between.

Here are some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.

Let’s call them “verbal tics.”  They are nothing more than bad habits born of  unconscious neglect and chaotic voice development over years of influence from sources as disparate as television, radio, parents, and peers.

They eat away at your credibility.  Recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power.  They are easily corrected.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Vocal Fry – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence.  The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word.

Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark.  Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his vocal fry into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  Vocal Fry is manifested by a creaking and grating on the last word or syllable.

It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade.  As if a  frog is croaking in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.

Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.”  This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.

The last syllables of a word are lost in breath.  The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.

The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room.  It deflates the audience.  In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.

Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like.  Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.

It’s an affectation, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Uptalk – This heinous affectation is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  If you could choose only one thing to change to improve your speaking voice, this would be it.  Uptalk is so corrosive to credibility that correcting this one pathology can transform a weak presentation and how it is received by a skeptical audience.

It radiates weakness and uncertainty and conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession spoken as if questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with the verbal up-tic that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

Speech coach Susan Miller superbly describes these speech pathologies and offers remedies for both vocal fry and uptalk here.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them

For more tips to improve your speaking voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Scourge of Cartoon Speaking Voice!

Cartoon voice is a pathology
Reality TV mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation, but judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your speaking voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.

This results from many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

Cartoon Speaking Voice

The cartoon speaking voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.

It is sometimes called the puberphonic voice, and this is not meant as a compliment.

Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon speaking voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.

This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit.  Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.

Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?

One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak.  As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.

Reality TV Infests Everything

Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way.  They surround us.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.  Or the sound of a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence.  A voice fry that has no force.  No depth.

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

I often hear this cartoon speaking voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms.  Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices.  These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s have an example.  Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.”  It was heinous.

Cartoon Speaking Voice is a professional killer
Cartoon Speaking Voice goes with Uptalk

I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.”  Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it.  And apparently “totally” so.  Ya know?

“Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever.  Ya know what I mean?”

She fired them out in machine-gun fashion.  A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying.  Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre.  It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.

A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.

The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks.  Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone.  No resonance came from the chest.  Her cartoon speaking voice rasped on the ears.

Every sentence spoken as a question.

Dum-Dums . . .

Two major problems surface here.  First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating.  Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”

Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into  virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.

“Like.  Totally!  Ya know?  Ummm.  Like.  Totally!  It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know?  Ummm.  Whatever.”

Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.

Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this.  And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility.  Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill empty air with dum-dums.

Dum-dums result from lazy thought and lazier speech.  It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.

Exaggeration?  No, it’s a voice you hear every day.

Listen for it.  Maybe it’s your voice.

Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption

In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a lowest common denominator stripe.

If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying.  The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who wait to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.

Cartoon Speaking Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show.  You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way.  You are toast before you open your mouth.

Badly burned toast.

But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.

If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions:  Why do I talk like this?

Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way?  Why do all of my sentences sound like questions?  Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?

Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!

Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone.  But you don’t have to do it!

Nope, don’t change a thing!

If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on!  Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers.  Relish it.  Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.

Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!

But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.

You make a conscious choice.  Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences.  You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?

Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.

When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.

For more on improving your professional presence and rid yourself of cartoon speaking voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Develop your Business Presentation Voice

Business Presentation Voice
Develop Your Presentation Voice for Personal Competitive Advantage

Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Presentation Voice.”

Rather than mere provocation, the question addressed the issue of your presentation voice quality, one of the key issues in business presenting today.

 “Bad Voice” is a problem that goes largely unaddressed.  For many reasons.  Pride.  Ego.  Sensitivity.

As such, it remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.

Your Presentation Voice

Your voice can be a sensitive issues.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.

We believe the voice is “natural” when, in fact, it’s likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

The result can be awful.

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.  Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.

So what’s a “Bad Presentationi Voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?  Is it pinched?

Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Pinched.  Nasal.  Raspy.

Unpleasant.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.

Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.  A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.  A voice that can even hurt your social life.

Cartoon Presentation Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a daytime television show.  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.  This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.  Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to acquiring a powerful business presentation voice.

They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

But . . . my voice is “natural!”

If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.  Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.

He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.

Business Presentation Voice
Develop a Powerful Business Presentation Voice for a Competitive Edge

Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”  You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.  Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.

I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.

The same is true when it comes to your presentation voice.  Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.  It’s not.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should strive to develop a mellifluous and compelling presentation voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

It’s a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You hold yourself back.

It’s also a manifestation of fear.  Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:

“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone.  If a thing is right, there can be no question of affectation.  It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others.  If you know a thing is right, do it.  If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”

What is your voice but a means of communication?  Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing?  Other than communicating?  And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.

It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively in especially powerful business presentations?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?

For more on developing an especially powerful business presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Uptalk is not the Rage Virus, but . . .

Eliminate uptalk from your speaking style
Fix this one voice pathology of Uptalk and vault yourself into the upper echelon of folks who sound like they know what they’re talking about

While it does seem to be spreading like a virus, Uptalk does not spell the end of civilization.

No, the rapid spread of this debilitating voice pathology is not as alarming as, say, the spread of the Rage virus in the film 28 Days Later . . .

But . . .

Uptalk does show an incredible degradation of the language and of clear ideas, confidently expressed . . . especially in business presentations.

And as with most obstacles, there is an opportunity buried inside this one.

This infestation of uptalk offers you an valuable opportunity.  For this opportunity to work for you to its maximum, you must keep it to yourself so that the gulf and the contrast between you and them is as great as can be.

If you can overcome your own tendency toward uptalk, which is a hoi-polloi kind of thing, you will have lifted yourself above the horde of uptalking babblers that seems to increase daily.

You can do this by training yourself to speak with a forthright confidence.

The Uptalk Pathology

Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences that transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.

As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation.  Looking for others to nod in agreement.

Yes, maddening . . . and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It screams amateur when used in formal presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.  I’m not invested in this exercise at all.”

Poet and social commentator Taylor Mali has this to say about this voice pathology . . .

 

 

Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

Uptalk  =  “I don’t know what I’m talking about”

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix this.

In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology.  If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.

For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

Evaluate your own speech to identify the up-tic.

Then come to grips with it, and, you know . . .

Eliminate it.  Totally.

For a wealth of energizing instruction on exactly how to craft especially powerful presentations without uptalk, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Develop a Powerful Presentation Voice

An especially powerful presentation voice
You can enhance your Business Presentations by developing your voice into an especially powerful instrument, the source of personal competitive advantage

A powerful presentation voice that is resonant, clear, and captivating can lift your business presentation into the province of “professional.”

That voice is yours for the asking and development.

So what constitutes a great speaking voice, a voice ready for prime-time presenting?  Just this . . .

A voice that is stable, sourced from the chest and not the voice box alone.

A voice that carries sentences to their conclusion and doesn’t grind and whine at the end of sentences as is the bad habit of today.

A voice that concludes each sentence decisively and doesn’t transform every declarative sentence into a question.  A voice deeper than yours is right now.  A depth that you can acquire with a bit of work.

A presentation voice that that achieves personal competitive advantage through its resonance and distinctiveness.

Acquire a Powerful Presentation Voice

You can do many things to improve your voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.  If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940.  The advice contained therein is about as universal and timeless as it gets.

The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago.  It responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries to develop your voice into an especially powerful tool for business presentation advantage.

Below, I suggest several sources for further improvement.  And, of course, you can always click here for the whole self-training package.

• Renee Grant-Williams, Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention (2002)

• Jeffrey Jacobi, How to Say it with Your Voice (1996)

• Patsy Rodenburg, Power Presentation: Formal Speech in an Informal World (2009)

• Clare Tree Major, Your Personality and Your Speaking Voice (1920)

Uptalk Prisoner Liberated!

Eliminate uptalk in your presentationsToday, I link to an inspiring story, a story of a brave girl who, through courage and persistence, overcame her debilitating handicap – the business presentation pathology of Uptalk.

This testimony on conquering Uptalk  is too good not to share.

It relates to a young woman who recognized her own debilitating verbal pathology of Uptalk and committed herself to ovecoming it.

She corrected it. Bravo!

Uptalk Gives You a Clueless Aura

Uptalk is sometimes called, by the Brits, the “Moronic Interrogative.”

Anyone who has had my classes or read for any length of time my hectoring in this blog-space knows of my crusade against this crippling vocal trend.  Uptalk leeches all credibility from the speaker.

Sometimes called the “High rising line” or “Valley speak,” this crippling quirk confers upon the user a clueless aura of uncertainty.

This is perhaps the single biggest discriminator between mature, professional presenters and the thousands of amateurs who can’t even hear the plaintive whine in their own constantly questioning sentences.

There is a reason that powerful, confident speakers hold audiences rapt.  The strength of their oratory is its declarative nature.  You hear no constant plea for validation in their voices.  You hear no pathological valley girl uptalk.

I crusade against uptalk, but not only because of its destruction of otherwise good presentations.  Uptalk can mean professional suicide for young graduates.  The insidious thing is that the eager abuser of language, the self-victimizer, won’t even know what lost her or him the job.  Uptalk can drive job interviewers crazy.  Uptalk can drive presentation audiences crazy.

Uptalk is the line between a professional speaker and the utter amateur.  It’s completely within your power to cross that line.  The young woman in this story did.  Here’s a passage from her woman’s testimonial . . .

I wasn’t expecting a priest to equip me for life but he did.  It started on the first day of theology class in catholic high school in Pennsylvania.

My theology teacher was a blind priest.  In our discussion-based religion course, he identified students by the sound of their voices.  Like many high school girls, I was an uptalk offender.  When I talked out loud in class, everything had the spoken equivalent of an ellipsis or a question mark on the end of it.

Here’s the entire story.

Throwing off the shackles of Uptalk can be liberating.  To learn more on how to do it, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

Uptalk Undermines the Best Presentations

Uptalk can kill your professional reputation
Why handicap your business presentations with juvenile uptalk?

Uptalk is the most ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.

Once it grips you, uptalking is reluctant to let go.

It’s maddening, and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It bellows amateur when used in formal presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here . . . I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

If you have this affectation – and if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.

Quash Uptalk!

But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.  But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling Verbal Up-tic?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

This is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.

It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness, a general creepiness.

At its worst, your listeners want to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism.  They call it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her uptalk.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.  Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalk.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.  And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.  For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

For more on presentation pathologies like uptalk and how to overcome them in especially powerful fashion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Heinous Voices

On the issue of voice, there is much to be said . . . but much better than the written word are examples.

Particularly examples of bad voices.

Egregious voices.

Heinous voices.

Voices of persons in the public eye, who really ought to know better.

I encourage people to take control of their voices rather than allowing them to develop in a chaotic and undisciplined way, perhaps mimicking the ignorant elite.  Voice development is essential for the improvement of your business presentation delivery.

Here, I point out what makes a pleasant communicative voice and what makes for annoying, weak, distracting voices.

A voice that undermines your credibility without you being aware.

CAVEAT:   Heinous Voices . . .

Here I offer two examples from reasonably well-known personages.  Examples of heinous voices that irritate and grind upon the senses.  They offer textbook instruction on what not to do if you are presenting.

The first video features actress Demi Moore, who is afflicted with two glaring voice pathologies.

Her first issue is a verbal grind that sounds as if she needs to clear her throat of something thick and unpleasant.  Her voice gurgles and grinds along because she is not pushing enough air across her vocal cords to hold a steady, let alone mellifluous, tone.

Demi also is plagued with the infuriating verbal uptick – sometimes called the moronic interrogative – in which every declarative sentence is formed as a question, as if she isn’t sure of what she’s saying, as if she is seeking validation from you for everything she says.

The grinding and upticking go on interminably . . . truly painful to hear.  It begins at the 60-second mark . . .

 

 

This second example is a young lady by the name of Danica McKellar — an actress, author, and “mathematician.”  She is certainly not a public speaker, given her cartoon voice and her own verbal grind pathology.

She sounds suspiciously like a Disney Channel-trained former kid actor, possessed as she is with the tell-tale end-of-sentence rasp and shrill cartoon words sourced direct from a pea-sized voice-box.

 

 

If you find yourself afflicted with these pathologies, you can correct them with a few minor adjustments – push air across your vocal cords, use your chest as a resonating chamber, and stop inflecting your voice up at the end of each sentence.

With just a few changes, you can dramatically improve your presenting voice.

Cartoon Voice, Uptalk, and Dum-Dums

Reality TV Mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation.

But judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your voice is probably pinched and smaller than it ought to be.

This is a result of many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

Cartoon Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.

This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit.  Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.

Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?

One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak.  As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.

Reality TV Infests Everything

Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way.  They surround us.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.  Or the sound of a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

I often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms.  Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices.  These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s have an example.  Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.”  It was heinous.

I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.”  Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it.  And apparently “totally” so.  Ya know?

“Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever.  Ya know what I mean?”

She fired them out in machine-gun fashion.  A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying.  Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre.  It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.

A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.

The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks.  Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone.  No resonance came from the chest.  The voice rasped on the ears.

Every sentence spoken as a question.

Dum-Dums . . .

Two major problems surface here.  First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating.  Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”

Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into  virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.

“Like.  Totally!  Ya know?  Ummm.  Like.  Totally!  It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know?  Ummm.  Whatever.”

Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.

Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this.  And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility.  Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill up the empty air with dum-dums.

Dum-dums are the result of lazy thought and lazier speech.  It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.

Exaggeration?  No, it’s a voice you hear every day.

Listen for it.  Maybe it’s your voice.

Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption

In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a certain lowest common denominator stripe.

If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with this kind of laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying.  The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who are waiting to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.

Cartoon Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show.  You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way.  You are toast before you open your mouth.

Badly burned toast.

You’re on the express train to failure with a first-class ticket.

But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions:  Why do I speak like this?

Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way?  Why do all of my sentences sound like questions?  Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t seem to express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?

Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!

Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone, but you don’t have to do it!  Nope, don’t change a thing!

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on!  Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers.  Relish it.  Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.

Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!

But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.

You make a conscious choice.  Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences.  You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?

Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.

When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.

For more on improving your professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Improve Your Business Presentation Voice for Power and Impact

Fix your presentation voice
Start Improving your Presentation Voice Today

Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being – such as our business presentation voice.

Business students get antsy when I talk about improving the presentation voice.

Why?

Because the subject implies that there might be such a thing as “bad” voices and  “good” voices, and this kind of value judgment is usually verboten in most liberal arts classes they take.  Supposedly, there are only  “different” voices, and we are urged to  “celebrate” these differences.

That may work in the test tube, but not in the cold and harsh business world, where people are judged on how well they communicate.  And voice is a large part of that.

Your Presentation Voice isn’t Sacred

Your current speaking voice is neither sacrosanct nor “natural.”

Your presentation voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.  Why not evaluate your voice today?  See if it gets the presentation job done for you.

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?  Do you uptalk?  Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

Why not change for the better?

Develop an Especially Powerful Voice

Recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your being.  It’s an instrument to communicate.  You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.

Simply thinking of your voice in this way can improve its quality.  Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically.  You can build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Consider here several things you can do to improve your presentation voice.  Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

For more especially powerful techniques to improve your presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Are You a Prisoner of Uptalk?

The Disease of Uptalk
Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility Question by Question

The verbal up-tic is the most ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.  Its most common manifestation is Uptalk.

Once it grips you, Uptalk won’t let go . . .

It’s maddening.  And it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It screams amateur when used in formal business presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility

If you have this affectation – if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.  But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.

But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling uptalk?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

Uptalking.

This is the unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt . . . and it conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Someone calling herself Kim Kardashian is the main carrier of this virus.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.

Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalking.  Reality television females, as a breed, express themselves no other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.  And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.  Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

For more on correcting the uptalk pathology and building a credible business presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Develop Your Voice for Presentation Power

Develop your voice for advantage
Develop your voice for personal competitive advantage

The suggestion to “develop your voice” can anger some people.

Many people are fearful or resistant to adjusting their voices, for all sorts of odd reasons.

They think it’s “cheating.”  Or “unnatural.”

They revere “spontaneity” and believe that their voices are, well . . . natural.

More than likely, they have neglected the development of their voices.

Time to Develop Your Voice

For some reason, folks who neglect voice development now revere this product of their benign neglect as somehow . . . natural.

As if there is some far-off judge who weighs and measures the “naturalness” of voice.

As if there is some kind of purity benchmark or standard.

But there is no such standard for “naturalness.”

Only pleasant voices.  And unpleasant voices.  And lots of voices in-between.

Moreover, the variety of voices, from bad to good, has been with us eternally.  George Rowland Collins noted in 1923 that

“Nasality, harshness, extremes of pitch, and other unnatural vocal qualities distract the audience.  They impede communication; they clog the speaker’s transmission.  They hinder the persuasion of any audience, be it one or one thousand.”

There is nothing holy or sacrosanct or “natural” about the way you speak now.  It is not “natural” in any meaningful sense of the word, as if we are talking about breast augmentation versus the “natural” thing.

Your voice today is “natural” only in the sense that it is the product of many factors over time.  Most of these factors are unintended.  Negative factors as well as positive.  Factors you’ve probably never thought of.

So in that sense, why would you have any problem with changing your voice intentionally, the way that you want it changed?  Why not develop your voice in ways that you choose?

There is no “Natural Voice”

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad; and there are all sorts of voices in-between.  You can develop your voice to become a first-rate speaker, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Let me share with you some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.

Let’s call them “verbal tics.”  They are nothing more than bad habits born of ignorance and neglect.

They eat away at your credibility.  They are easily corrected, but first you should recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power and credibility.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Verbal Grind – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence.  The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word. Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark.  Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his verbal grinding into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  It is manifested by a crackle and grating on the last word or syllable, as if the air supply is being pinched off.

It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade.  Almost as if a dog is growling in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

Develop your Voice for Advantage
Develop your Voice for Power and Impact

When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.

Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.”  This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.  The last syllables of a word are lost in breath.  The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.

The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room.  It deflates the audience.  In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.

Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like.  Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.  It’s an affectation.  People don’t ever talk this way.  People do not talk like this, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Verbal Up-tic – This is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal” or “uptalk.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalk that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them.  The last half is to consciously develop your voice for power and impact.

Interested in more on how to develop your voice?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.