Little news notes fascinate us.
Especially when arcane research is released. Most recent on our hit list? A study from a William & Mary sociologist who studied Jeopardy! contestants (double exclamation point) to look at the incidence of answering questions with a question.
It’s called uptalk.
Not surprisingly, women were nearly twice as prone to lift their voices at the end of a sentence; men, only when correcting a female colleague. The sociologist suspects that high-powered women lilt to appear less dominant, more likable.
In case we jump to other psychological theories, another academic, this one from San Diego State, claims that kind of intonation doesn’t necessarily signal powerlessness; it’s simply just another way people talk. [Then again, she’s from the land of the Valley Girl.]
What this all means is, obviously, subject to much interpretation. The underlying message to us, as communicators and brand and design folks, is that how you say it is far more critical than what you say. According to linguistic experts, your voice gives others cues to stress, age, socioeconomic status, anxiety, gender, personality, and culture (among other indicators). Voice sounds influence those around you: deeper tones are more memorable, for instance. Foreign accents strain for credibility … at least, to U.S. listeners. And familiar voices are instantly recognizable (just ask our pets). We raise and vary our pitches for emphasis, to show surprise or irony or enthusiasm, or to simply pose a question.
Media and speech coaches, take note. As should all of us who agree with Benjamin Disraeli’s contention that there’s no index of character so sure as the voice.