Confession: Hi, my name’s Dawn and I’m a Baby Boomer. Confession over. Being a Boomer means I can get grumpy about some of the things that lovely young people do and say. And specifically how they say it. What’s more, I’m not alone.
Two verbal affectations abound in contemporary workplaces and some of us are acutely aware of them. Others are blissfully unaware and may wonder what the fuss is about. The fuss is about how they can make you sound – which isn’t as good to employers as amongst your friends.
If you want to communicate more effectively and credibly ditch these two speech mannerisms and see what happens. Or should that be (affects growling tone), “See what happens?”
1. The upward inflection
The upward inflection (also known as ‘high rising intonation’ or HRI) is when your voice rises at the end of a sentence, which is usually when you’re asking a question. Except many people now use it at the end of a sentence, whether asking a question or not. Don’t know what HRI is? [that was a question]. Family Guy makes the point very well here on YouTube.
I tend to have two reactions to speakers who use HRI when no question is being asked: either, “They must think I’m so stupid they have to ask me and check I understand’ (perfectly plausible), or, “They are utterly unsure of what they’re on about” (also plausible).
When and where did this start? Many blame the Aussies – who use HRI a lot. Here’s a fun debate between a Brit and an Aussie on the point in The Guardian.
HRI is also associated with the ‘Valley Girl’, notes Denise Graveline, a.k.a. The Eloquent Woman, with some good practical points about dealing with it in this post.
Try this: record yourself speaking in a meeting
You may want to choose an internal discussion and explain to colleagues you’re working on a project about your presentation skills. Then hit record on your smartphone if they all agree it’s OK. Play it back – how confident and clear do you think you sound? Count the HRIs where no question was asked and notice the responses you got.
2. The creaky voice
The second is ditching the creaky voice, also known as ‘Vocal Fry’. If you’re doing this: a) you may have no idea you are, b) you may know and think it helps you sound more serious, gives you gravitas.
Here are some high-profile examples of Vocal Fry on YouTube.
If you’re Katy Perry you may not be too worried about where your career might take you next. The rest of us might want to know that frying can hit your career prospects. ‘Creakers’ were rated as less competent, educated and trustworthy in a study by Long Island University (where I’ll bet frying is rife).
Vocal fry can also make you hard to hear on phone, conference and video calls.
Try this: breathe deeply and relax the throat
Vocal fry is caused by reducing airflow through the larynx.
You may of course disagree with me – here’s another point of view.
How about discussing these points with colleagues?
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.