Week 7

7.01 - Uptalk

Uptalk or upspeak has received a lot of attention when discussing female speech patterns. This phenomenon originated in the 1970’s and 80’s in Southern California and was called Valley Girl talk. However, this conversational style is not limited to females.

What is uptalk or upspeak?

It is the rising inflection at the end of declarative statements making them sound like questions.

Uptalk is appearing in the workplace on a regular basis, particularly with Millennials. The prevalence of uptalk in their speech, both male and female, made me take pause. Why are they doing this?

What can you do about it?

First, identify it. Record yourself. When you introduce yourself, are you making a statement or a question?

My name is Lynda Katz Wilner ↗ and my company is Successfully Speaking ↗


My name is Lynda Katz Wilner ↘ and my company is Successfully Speaking ↘

A questioning or rising inflection often tells the listener that we are unsure or tentative, or perhaps, not finished with what we want to say. However, to sound more definitive, end your statements with a downward pitch.

And here is the caveat………….we may choose to intentionally make our statement a question in an attempt to sound collaborative with our listener or to come across less authoritative.

We’ll meet at the end of the week? ↗

In summary, be mindful of uptalk and use it judiciously, if at all. There can be a time and place for it depending upon your intention. Remember overuse of any speech pattern can become a distraction.

Contact us at Successfully Speaking for 1:1 coaching or small group workshops.

7.02 - Small Talk

Many people worry over their ability to initiate small talk. Non-native English speakers have added challenges. Do you ever find yourself at social or business events anxious to make contact with strangers? What do you say?

What is small talk? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, small talk is “social conversation about unimportant things, often between people who do not know each other well.”

When in a networking situation, who do you approach? If you see someone sitting or standing alone, they may welcome your overture. Make eye contact, smile, and if they reciprocate, walk over and start talking. If you see a small group of people, observe their body language. If they are all facing each other with feet and bodies turned inward, they are not welcoming you, whether intentionally or unintentionally! Don’t take it personally. Go find a more receptive group. When you find that group, listen first before interrupting.

What can you say? Introduce yourself and shake hands if it is a business setting. The easiest starters are to comment on the environment, e.g., food, venue, event. You can also compliment the person’s clothing or accessory. Who doesn’t like a compliment?

Be prepared to ask open-ended questions. A yes/no question can stop the conversation immediately:

  • “Have you attended this group before?” “NO.”

Instead, use an open-ended question or statement:

  • “What brought you to this event?”

Open-ended statements begin with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” “how,” or “Tell me about ……………” You will find that these help you get more of a response from your conversational partner.

Take advantage of any free information. Use verbal or visual cues. If the person said, they just moved to this city, respond with a question related to this fact:

  • “Where did you live before?”

If you see a picture or diploma in their office, comment on it:

  • “I see you went to The University of Michigan. What brought you to Maryland?”
  • “Who is the soccer player?”

What kills a conversation? If you talk only about yourself, you will bore the listener. Asking too many questions will sound like an interview. Interrupting your partner shows you are not a good listener, and finally, speaking about controversial topics may make someone uncomfortable.

A conversation is like a tennis game; keep the conversation flowing back and forth. Be a good listener and don’t monopolize. Be sure to ask questions that connect to the conversation. Avoid talk about politics, religion, or finances since they tend to be emotional topics. When you need to move on, politely excuse yourself.

Now, next time you go to an event or find yourself with one person and silence, make eye contact, smile, and start small talking.

Contact us at Successfully Speaking to learn more about small talk and effective communication skills.

7.03 - Executive Presence

In an effort to convey “executive presence,” many people adopt an attitude of rigid aloofness or inaccessible stand-offishness. The idea is to demonstrate that they are unfazed and unrattled by anything that emotions don’t come into play when it comes to their work and business.

The problem with this tactic is that it puts up a wall between the speaker and the audience, cutting off the emotional connection that is so important for getting people to really sit up and pay attention.

It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but a key factor in executive presence is the demonstration of a deep degree of caring, commitment, and interest in whatever it is they are speaking about. People like to follow people who care about the same things they do. It is that emotional investment that indicates their leaders share their values and will have their interests in mind when taking action. When emotion and caring is communicated, the listeners become ‘on board’ with the speaker, will take what they are hearing more seriously, and are more likely to agree with what the speaker is saying.

Watch recordings of leaders and business moguls who are popularly thought as having executive presence; they show a surprising amount of emotion in their speeches. What they are also doing is controlling and managing that demonstration of emotion. They show how they are feeling while still keeping a firm grip on themselves. This lets them maintain their expression so they demonstrate the right kind and level of emotion for the situation. Their executive presence is actually enhanced by their emotional communication. While they are willing to show us their strength of feeling, they control it in such a way that also shows that they can act rationally under stress or pressure.

The emotion you do want to convey is best described as intensity. Facial expression, particularly centered around the eyes, is especially effective. When we use a penetrating stare rather than keeping our eyes downcast or half-lidded, the strength of our feeling is quickly communicated.

A key to developing this intensity and expression is to spend time thinking about the content of your speech or upcoming meeting and analyzing why it is important to you. How does it matter in your life, in your family’s lives, in the lives of your employees and co-workers? What does it mean to your business? What effect does it have on your company and stakeholders? Then, answer these questions out loud while watching yourself in the mirror. Play around with your expression until you are outwardly demonstrating the inward significance you just found.

This kind of analysis and practice takes time, yes, but it pays dividends in terms of being able to convey that elusive ‘executive presence’.

Give it a try: what speeches, talks, presentations, or meeting do you have coming up? What are the issues you need to address? Why do they matter so much, and how can you convey that importance through the way you speak?

This portion of our email course is brought to you by Lauren Sergy. Lauren is a speaker and a public speaking coach in Edmonton, Alberta. She helps professionals and entrepreneurs become better speakers and communicators so they can pursue their goals with strength and joy. You can find her and read more of her articles at http://laurensergy.com.

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