Okay Ladies, Now Let’s Fix Our Inflection

If you didn’t read that im Beyoncé’s voice then you should be ashamed. Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your cow!

During my first quarter in ad school, I had a teacher who was notorious for asking questions…and then questioning your answer.

“How many inches in a centimeter?”, he would pose to the class.

A few seconds of hesitant silence would pass, accompanied by uncertain looks between students. One nose would be buried in a laptop and you’d hear furious typing into what could only be a Google search bar.

“What, no takers?”, he would ask incredulously. Then a hand would go up, and he’d take the bait.

“2 point…. 5…4?” The answer would die on the female student’s lips as her gaze met the instructor’s.

“Well?” He would ask impatiently. “Is that a question?”

All of us would squirm uncomfortably as we waited for the correct answer to materialize. Exasperated, the instructor would cut off what sounded like a correct answer coming from across the room.

“The answer is 2.54 centimeters.” 

Too many times in my own life, I’ve heard young women present factual information with that telltale rise in inflection that leaves listeners questioning. Was that a question? Or a statement? The gag is, sometimes the young woman’s voice I’m hearing is my own. I’ll start out a sentence knowing full well that I’m correct, but by the end I’ll have succumbed to the eerie sound of my own voice hanging in the air. From there, it’s only a matter of seconds before my own voice betrays me. 

Reading through my little ad school anecdote — hell, if you’re in the classroom listening to it — it’s easy to think that the instructor was in the wrong. The student said the right answer!! Lol. Sure. They said the right answer, but they damn near whispered it. If that student had answered that question with conviction, if they’d stated that 2.54 with their *chest*, that entire exchange would’ve gone completely differently. Don’t just take my word for it, think about your own experiences. Are you more likely to believe someone who seems frightened by the sound of their own voice? Or someone who is confident in their knowledge? Worst case scenario – just admit you don’t know the answer. This reminds me of a great quote – “What does not knowing have to do with finding out?” Rather than say an answer you’re unsure of, admit that you’re not Siri in human form and just ask Siri instead. Then you can steal her thunder and say that answer with a lil more certainty.

But back to the inflection. Let’s say you already know the answer, and your self doubt just doesn’t want you to be great. How do you fix this?

By being deliberate about your speech. We all love Michael Scott, but you know how he said he starts a sentence and hopes he finds the point along the way? Yeah, don’t do that. Whenever you have something to add to a meeting, a presentation, or a class, do so with conviction. Gather your thoughts, remind yourself that you’re adding value to the conversation, and don’t sound like you’re posing a question unless you are. By the same token, start eliminating words and phrases like “I think…” and “Maybe…” in front of factual statements that should be treated as such. With just those slight adjustments, you’re already positioning yourself as more of an authority. And by consciously taking steps to sound more self-assured whenever you speak, you’re slowly building credibility among my peers. After awhile, you’ll start to notice you feel more comfortable chiming in. You might even start to enjoy it. 

So I’m gonna give you a new scenario. You’re in a lecture, the professor asks a question you saw the answer to like two seconds ago. He points in your direction, wordlessly inviting you to answer. For the next 10 seconds, you will have the the undivided attention of the room. What are you going to do with it?

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