“John – we are receiving some feedback about the  team and their presentation style. In particular we get comments about the inflection of their voice going up at the end. Can you work on this with folks on the team?”

Uncertain Language vs. Command Language

This is something I see a lot. I call it “uncertain language,” vs. “command language.” Let me explain. The problem with using voice inflection at the end of a sentence when it is not a question is that it makes your statement sound like a question, even though it isn’t, and you come across as uncertain. That dramatically reduces the  perception of your status and power.

Saying your statement isn’t a question isn’t the complete truth. Often, when your voice tone goes up at the end of a statement there is an implied question. It’s usually something like “do you agree?” “Am I being understandable?” “Are you okay with this?” “Can we just all get along?” or some desire for approval and connection. It can makes you sound like you’re uncertain, and/or lower status than you actually are.

When you’re speaking; when you’re the host, or tour leader, or speaking to groups of people, your listeners want to believe that you know what you’re talking about. They like to know that you’re in charge and that you’ve got things handled. Going up at the end of your sentences robs you of that.

Lower, Slower and Louder

There is a discipline called Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Pseudo-science? Maybe so, but I’ll take things that work from wherever they may come. NLP has something to offer here.

One of the ways you can be more effective and persuasive is to begin consciously using embedded commands. Embedded commands allow you to make powerful suggestions by embedding them indirectly within longer statements.  One key step to doing this is making your voice subtly lower, slower and louder when you embed the command.

NLP calls this technique analog marking. In NLP analog communication is nonverbal communication, while words are referred to in NLP as digital communication. Analog communication goes back to our earliest communication; pre-language communication. Sound and movement.

When you use analog marking to communicate some part of what you’re saying, the unconscious mind notices and understands your communication differently than the conscious mind does. And, when you use sounds and movement the unconscious mind pays special attention. Body language, movement, voice tone, volume, speed and so on. And, you’re always using analog marking. The question I ask myself is whether it’s supporting my message, or my insecurity.

Commands vs Questions

The difference between “you’re going now.” and “you’re going now?” is pretty obvious. What is less obvious is that when you go up at the end of something you do not intend to be a question it sends a very strong signal to the unconscious mind of the listener and has as big an impact on your credibility as the question mark vs. the period has in the sentences above.

Here are a few examples of embedded commands.

  • “I’m here to talk with you and I want you to feel good about yourself”- I might mark “feel good” by saying it slightly louder, slower and with a downward pitch to my voice.
  • “You definitely don’t have to accept what I’m saying if you don’t want to.” “Accept what I’m saying” could be marked by making an open hand gesture.
  • “Would you tell me your story sometime?” I could mark “tell me your story” with a subtle body movement closer to the person.

To be effective your statements must be statements, not questions. We understand a rising tone at the end of a sentence to be the marker of a question. Going up at the end of a non-question sentence sends the message that you have a question. If the sentence isn’t actually a question then the non-language message is still that there is a question, and it becomes a question about your credibility, or status or knowledge, or some other factor that you don’t intend to call into question!

The Bottom Line

A question has a rising tone; the inflection goes up at the end of the sentence. A statement has no change in inflection at the end; it is flat. And, a command (this can be a subtle command) goes down at the end of the sentence; it has a downward inflection at the end. And, command language is very powerful. Going down at the end of your sentences gives them extra impact. You can’t do it all the time or you’ll sound silly, but if you take on speaking in command language you will avoid unsure language. And, that will have you sounding more powerful everywhere in your life.