Questionable Tactics?

nervous speaker


There are many among us who would—if we are to believe certain surveys and the urban myths attached to them—rather die than speak. Still, there are others among us (including yours truly, when in the mood) who are dying TO speak.  Both are only slight exaggerations.



Toward that end, I have been active in Toastmasters International, mostly via my home club of Voorhees, NJ. It’s easier to call it VTC, and I have been active in VTC as a club officer (hoping that someone will take over the presidency come July), speaker, evaluator, mentor—and speech contestant when those opportunities come around.


What do we do? In a nutshell…well actually, we now meet in a church…we take turns preparing, delivering and evaluating speeches and impromptu addresses. Well, we don’t prepare our extemporaneous addresses, but we do adopt a certain mindset toward them. Something like that. Toastmasters has been around since 1924, and now boasts 280,000 members in 13,500 clubs which can be found in 116 countries. It’s all about the confidence, growth and leadership that come from competent and eventually masterful oral communication.


My Toastmasters experience sometimes extends to commenting on Linkedin on various issues—both within the real world and within the Toastie laboratories—that mostly revolve around the spoken word. Often, participation in such forums is a not-so-glorified time waster; sometimes, it seems to be time well-spent.


Today, I came across a post entitled, “You Sound Clueless—Here’s Why.” It drew me in, and provided a link to a piece in Psychology Today by a Canadian psychology professor named Hank Davis. Essentially, Davis decries what he calls the Uptalk Epidemic. He then defines uptalk as follows:


That ever-growing tendency to end statements with upward inflections to make them sound like questions. Like you're not quite sure what you're saying is true. Or clear. Or will be acceptable to your audience. To suggest that you're willing to back down, or restate your point, or change your viewpoint altogether if your listeners don't nod their approval.

It's a nasty habit. It is the very opposite of confidence or assertiveness. It's gotten all out of control.


Davis has apparently been fighting this battle against this epidemic (which he likens to a steamroller or, in today’s parlance, a meme) for awhile.


Am I with Professor Davis in this fight? Yes, in a general sense. I have always been quite passionate about words and how they are used. Perhaps, I have mostly been interested in the written word, and trying to do my part to see that words are used with clarity, command, color and creativity. (I may have just unintentionally coined The 4 Cs of Effective Word Use…hmmm.) As a speaker who is increasingly interested in helping others find their most effective voices, I am ready to do my part in:


  • helping others who are interested in communicating with passion—and fulfilling all of those aforementioned Cs
  • ridding our collective written and verbal lexicon of crutches that hinder the effectiveness of our messages


It’s a worthy fight, and I will also continue to wage battle against other things that annoy me, such as all of those cyber-abbreviations that are mindlessly used. To me, LOL still reigns supreme as the most overused and obnoxious one of all. I’m not really sure if it’s more obnoxious or innocuous at this point, and that’s part of the problem.


With respect to Professor Davis’ article and ongoing battle, another Toastmaster provided a link to a great little routine by a poet/humorist/teacher named Taylor Mali. He distills what Davis decries into a two-and-a-half minute rant that is hilarious and insightful. Please check it out.


I am grateful for passionate speakers, wordsmiths and inflection cops such as Hank Davis and Taylor Mali. It makes me feel a little less lonely while pondering such things that Davis’ column inspired:


Is uptalkng really an epidemic?
Hasn't the use of "meme" also reached epidemic proportions?
What about rhetorical questions with question marks?
How about those all-too-prevalent half-sentences that have spread like killer weeds?


Like this one. And this, and the first five sentences I pulled from Davis’ piece.

See you later?


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