Voicetrainer Blog

Uptalk and Vocal Fry

Posted on April 27, 2012 in Speaking Tips

Language fads and patterns are subconscious means of self-expression, and the adoption of these niche trends strongly influence how people view and relate to one another. A current vocal trend is the use of uptalk and vocal fry, which is particularly common among young women. These tendencies are beginning to receive widespread media attention and were recently addressed in the New York Times article, "Young Women Often Trendsetters in Vocal Patterns."

Uptalk, also known as "valley girl" or "little girl" speaking, is a common tendency for women, and surprisingly also for men. Uptalk occurs when words increase in pitch at the end of a statement, as though the speaker is asking a question.

Vocal fry, on the other hand, is when the voice trails off or croaks at the end of a statement, as if the speaker is running out of air. Some researchers suggest that women use vocal fry to sound more authoritative. "[Women] use language to assert their power in a culture that, at least in days gone by, asked them to be sedate and decorous,"The New York Times' Douglas Quenqua writes.

Although speakers often utilize uptalk and vocal fry without realizing it, these habits should be avoided when entering into professional situations like networking, interviewing or speaking with colleagues. In the workplace, uptalk and vocal fry can express a lack of confidenceand uncertainty in what you are saying, potentially leaving the listener uninterested or unconvinced of your credibility. Using vocal fry can also make your last words difficult to decipher, which may suggest that you are bored or disinterested in the conversation.

Uptalk and vocal fry may seem difficult to overcome, but all it takes is practice. First, record a phone call or conversation and make note of the times when you engage in each pattern. After listening to yourself, use these tips to create a more confident sounding voice:

  • To avoid vocal fry, take a small breath from your lower rib cage before speaking, and pause when needed to allow breath to replenish naturally. If you speak with too many words on one breath, you will eventually run out of air, and your voice will become gravelly if you try to continue speaking.

    • While breathing, feel the air fill up your lower chest. If you speak from this area of your chest, your words will come out clearly and powerfully.

    • Make sure you maintain the volume of your speech through the last word of an utterance.

  • For uptalk, as you near the close of a statement or the paused transition from one statement to another, focus on directing the tone of your voice downward, but not to the point where it leads to vocal fry.

    • If you notice that your voice is turning upward, take a breath and end the sentence with a downward tone. While at first you may think this sounds too dominant or abrasive, it does not. Instead, your message will seem confident and credible. State the last word as a fact, not as a question.

If you notice that you use vocal fry or uptalk, realize that these habits may take some time to reduce or eliminate. Call your office voicemail every morning to leave yourself a message about what you would like to accomplish, or record a short message on your cell phone each day. Listen back to your recordings to notice the change. Even after you improve, continue to leave yourself messages or record your voice once a week. Practice makes perfect.

I discuss uptalk and vocal fry in my most recent Speaking 360 video, which you can view here.

Please view my website for more information at www.voicetrainer.com

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