I remember standing at an Avis checkout counter in Charleston, South Carolina on my umpteenth business trip. I was bleary-eyed from the flight and I was hoping to sleepwalk through the transaction. The clerk handed me the keys to a car that was no bigger than a skateboard. I asked if she had any mid-size cars on the lot, while rummaging around in my bag. She answered, “Ah shur don’t?” I looked up. Was that a question? I repeated my request and she said, “We won’t have none til the mornin’?” Got it. The southern version of Valley Girl Syndrome.
The technical term for Valley Girl Syndrome is “misplaced upward inflection.” Even though a higher percentage of women have this speech pattern, men can suffer from it as well. The only way to get rid of it is to hear it in your own voice. To do that, you need a friend or colleague to make a face or slap the table every time they hear you uptalk. Once you are aware of when and where you throw in a verbal question mark, then you are ready to work on eliminating the bad habit. Here are a few tips for getting rid of VGS when you speak in public:
- Word choice, word choice, word choice. Think about – heck, even write down – what you’re going to say so that you can choose words that you don’t normally use in everyday conversation.
- Sentence structure, sentence structure, sentence structure. Now you have to craft sentences that are far from your normal, everyday sentences (which are usually a bunch of very short clauses strung together).
- Slow down, slow down, slooowww dooowwn. Adding in more pauses and slowing your rate of speech will help you become aware of when to drop your intonation down, or, what’s known in the biz as “staying in the pocket.”
- Tape yourself. Grab a tape recorder. Speak about a very familiar topic, like what you had for breakfast. Then play it back to see if you can hear the uptalk.
- Read aloud. Seriously, this is one of the best tips. I guarantee you do not read in non-stop uptalk. I guarantee you only raise your inflection when it is important to convey the meaning of the sentence. Try it.
The following poem by Taylor Mali sums it up beautifully. And the typography adds that special touch.