This is the story I tell most about my grandfather.
After he retired from sitting on the bench, my grandfather donated his time to the Kentucky School for the Blind. Way back in the days before Audible.com, he voiced audiobooks for the printing house for the blind.
Sometimes he chauffeured his grandkids around town, and when he did, he loved to pontificate about what he’d learned in life: in marriage, on the bench, at the school for the blind.
My grandfather was a well-educated man with a large vocabulary, but when he began voicing audiobooks he still came across words he didn’t know with startling frequency. When he didn’t know the word—or, more to the point, how to pronounce it—he floundered a bit. The recording tech would hear the hesitation in his voice. The tape (it was a tape back then) would be stopped, and rewound, and he would begin again—sometimes way back at the beginning of the chapter.
He loved to voice the books, but he didn’t love to re-read the chapters—especially when a quick look at the dictionary revealed he’d pronounced it correctly, if hesitantly. Once he protested at the waste of time—I pronounced it correctly; why re-record?—and the tech set him straight: “Nobody will believe you when you use that tone of voice. You sound so unsure of yourself, like you’re asking a question: why should they trust you?”
After that, he changed his ways. He concentrated on making his voice strong, sure, and confident, even when—no, especially when—he wasn’t feeling it.
Of all the stories I know about my grandfather, this is the one that comes up all the time.
I thought about my grandfather last week when I was reading The Confidence Code, the new business book that addresses why a “confidence gap” still exists between men and women, and how we can close it. It wasn’t exactly a page-turner, but it was packed with useful content. The book is written for and by women, but my grandfather would have heartily approved of the book’s practical advice.
One of my biggest takeaways from the book actually came from a man: a man who sounds just like my grandfather. His advice is this: “Banish upspeak.”
Upspeak (sometimes called uptalk, or high rising terminal) is when your intonation rises at the end of a sentence, making a question out of a sentence that isn’t a question. Women do it all the time; men do it, too, though less frequently. It makes a big difference in how you’re perceived.
According to the professor in The Confidence Code, women use upspeak to gain approval. He says it’s like they’re saying, “Don’t challenge me because I’m not really saying anything; I’m just asking.” But it seldom achieves its desired ends. Instead, it reveals a lack of confidence, and we must sound confident if we want people to believe we actually mean what we say.
If, upon doing a quick mental check, you realize that you’re totally guilty of this self-sabotaging habit, don’t be too hard on yourself. After chatting with the professor, the hyper-qualified authors of The Confidence Code realized that they did it, too.
(I know I do it from time to time, and I’m trying to stop, but it’s mortifying to hear myself do it on podcasts.)
The wonderful advice from the upspeak-hating professor is this: “Say it with confidence, because if you don’t sound confident, why will anybody believe what you say?”
(He makes it sound so simple. Why, then, is it so hard?)
Upspeak is a hard habit to break. It’s a hard habit for me to break. (Present tense.) But I imagine you, too, are hyper-qualified for the tasks today will throw at you. And so I encourage you, for all our sakes, to say it like you mean it.
Because if you don’t sound confident, why will anybody believe what you say?