Everyone has a certain pattern to their vocal inflections, but when it becomes noticeable and repetitive it becomes a distraction and a detraction. It’s hard to identify your own speech issues, but with the help of a recorder you can often identify common annoying patterns. Here are the patterns you must seek out and destroy:
• Uptalk. This is the worst of all patterns. Uptalk – constantly ending sentences by sliding upward in pitch – packs a double whammy. First, it kills your credibility because it makes you sound like character from the film Clueless. Second, it makes your voice seem higher (because it is, at the end of each sentence), thus defeating your efforts to lower your pitch. Seriously, this is a very bad habit: A recent survey of 700 managers found that almost three-quarters found uptalk “particularly annoying” and 85 percent said it was a “clear indicator of a person’s insecurity or emotional weakness.” When a speech habit becomes identified as a moral defect, it’s a real problem.
• Downtalk. This is where you lower your pitch repeatedly at the end of every sentence and sound like a small-market newscaster. It’s not as damaging to your credibility as uptalk, but all in all, it’s a pattern you want to break. Change your ending patterns occasionally to ensure that your speech sounds natural and conversational.
• Monotone. Speaking in one pitch not only bores people, but it gives them the impression you are bored. Worse, it can cause physical damage to your vocal cords. Pay more attention to inflection and make your voice rise and fall naturally. Don’t imitate a top-40 disc jockey; just move the pitch around a little. Listen to patterns of actors and newscasters and attempt to adapt (but not slavishly copy) their vocal variety patterns.
• Singsong. This is the smarmy disc-jockey pattern, characterized by artificially wide swings in pitch. A singsong pattern makes you seem insincere. Or insane. Work for more natural variations in pitch within sentences.
• Whininess. You become whiny by elongating vowels and stressing words at too high a pitch: “I tooooooooold you this would happen!” To fix, shorten up vowels, lower pitch, and say centered on a calm, deliberative tone.