By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Let's say that I'm testifying in trial? And that role has got me a little wary? And hesitant? So, those feelings leak through my non-verbal communication? And I start raising my pitch at the end of every sentence? My statements all start to sound as if they were questions? It is called "rising intonation"? And, over time, it can get pretty irritating? And it can also tell the jury that I'm not very sure about anything that I'm saying?
Yes, I've met witnesses who speak like that. The lack of certainty and confidence conveyed through rising intonation can place a question mark over an otherwise effective witness. After all, witnesses ought to come off as at least being clear about what they are saying. But the vocal habit of rising intonation can stand in the way of that. To the ear, when rising intonation is used at the end of a statement rather a question, it downplays assertiveness and certainty. Conversationally, this can be functional -- a way of inviting the other person into the discussion by adding a vocal, "... and what do you think?" after a statement. But as a habit in presentations and in testimony, it is not functional because it weakens credibility by sounding tentative and weak. In this post, I'm going to take a look at some of the research on rising intonation -- also called "rising inflection," "high rising terminals," "uptalk" or even "Valley girl talk." I'll also end on a down note by making some suggestions for fixing the problem.