Owning Your Voice
What’s your public speaking voice? We all have a particular way of speaking.
‘I like you very much just as you are,’ Mr Darcy told Bridget Jones in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary, and we all went weak at the knees when we heard that line. Isn’t that what we all want? By that, I don’t necessarily mean a perfect love story. But what I mean is to be accepted for who we are, whether that includes our quirky habits like putting ketchup on everything we eat, dying our hair blue or even having a particular way of speaking.
For years, sociologists and linguists have studied that lilt, referring to it as ‘uptalk’ or ‘high-rising intonation’. They found its presence in large pockets throughout the English-speaking world including Australia, England and New Zealand.
In America, it became popularised during the 1980s as Valley Girl Speak, after Frank Zappa’s hit 1982 song Valley Girl, a reference to the young women of California who spoke it as their dialect. Valleyspeak or Valspeak is an American sociolect, originally of the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. It is associated with young, upper-class white women (called Valley girls), although elements of it have spread to other demographics, including men, which has been a surprise for many scholars of linguistics.
Valleyspeak: The Stereotype
We’re all aware that this style of voice and using a vocal tic such as “like” annoys many people. It is widely written about as something that women, in particular, should eliminate because it’s considered to infantilise their persona and make them seem less intelligent. But the truth remains that for us Australians, our accent does have the inflection at the end of our words known as “upspeak” or high rising terminal, and we shouldn’t be expected to alter that rather fundamental part of who we are.
Why do some people say the word ‘like’ so much?
The Oxford English Dictionary says that “like” is “often used to convey the speaker’s response to something or to introduce segments of an ongoing conversation between two or more speakers. Sometimes also used to introduce a gesture or facial expression evocative of the speaker’s feelings. In short, the word ‘like’ is used in moments where we want to show as well as tell. The term ‘like’ allows us to introduce not just what we said or thought, but how.
So perhaps Valleyspeak does serve a linguistic purpose after all, and this reinforces the fact that we don’t have to spend time and effort in changing our accent to please others. Because I for one, firmly believe that owning your authentic public speaking voice is the best. What I can suggest to improve your public speaking voice however, is for us to aim to increase others’ understanding by speaking loud and clear, and articulate our words.
But what about those of us who are Australian?
Interestingly, way before the term Valleyspeak became a thing, Australians have always had the upward inflection as part of their accent. When I first came to Australia, 29 years ago, I had a heavy East London accent, and it was difficult for me to be understood by some people! I quickly learned that if I wanted to get my words across quickly, I had to change some words.
Here is a favorite Aussie Comedian of mine Adam Hills talking about the Australian accent.
Public Speaking Voice – I don’t recommend accent reduction
While I don’t recommend formal accent reduction training (it will take a lot of time and can be quite costly) to improve your public speaking voice, for some people it becomes natural that when surrounded by others. We adapt and speak with an accent that is similar to those around us.
I have friends who have lived in Australia as long as I have, who have retained their native accents. Some of us do, and others will adopt the accent of places we visit after a mere week or two. Having lived in my adopted country for many years now, I have more of a blended accent these days part English, part Australian. And yes, I am guilty too of the upward inflection or as my fellow Brits would say the “Australian question speak” – but that is OK because for us Aussies that is just the way we speak.
About the author
Lisa Evans helps leaders and entrepreneurs to craft compelling business stories and become exceptional speakers.
She has coached thousands of leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales as well as not-for-profit and community associations.
If you wish to take advantage of a complimentary session in order to chat about how you can become an exceptional and successful speaker with a stand-out brand, then use this link to book a time to chat.
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Lisa Evans, MBA is the CEO of Speaking Savvy. She is one of less than 150 Certified Speaking Professionals in Australia. She is a Certified Public Speaking and Storytelling Coach, Certified Virtual Presenter, Accredited Business Coach (ICF), Author, TEDx Speaker Coach, NLP Coach, Graphic Recorder, Host and Curator of Stories From The Heart, and Improvisation Actor and Marketing Director at Perth Playback Theatre.