Effective speakers shouldn’t do this, right?

Right question with mics lower res





Have you noticed a strange trend in our speech patterns? It’s a common verbal tick that’s simply annoying in social settings, yet reputation diluting in professional settings.

You’ve likely heard and unwittingly participated in this meme:

YOU: “This work party is rad—open bar and everything!”

YOUR COLLEAGUE: “I know, right?”

It’s meant to be an innocent, fun-loving way to express agreement. And that’s fine in informal conversations.

Yet I believe “I know, right?” has the same effect as “uptalk,” that annoying but common habit of raising our voices at the end of declarative sentences, making us sound unsure of ourselves. Linguists define it as “A speech pattern in which phrases and sentences habitually end with a rising sound, as if the statement were a question. Also known as upspeak or high-rising terminal (HRT).” 

As in: “I am sure we’ll find a way to refrain from uptalking,” ending with a rising voice that turns a statement into a question and a confident person into an unsure one.

I’ve been hearing the “I know, right?” along with the stand-alone, end-of-sentence, equally offending “…right?” pattern not just in “rad” social settings but—more alarmingly—in company training programs, on demo reels of some of the most credentialed professional speakers, and even (gasp!) in TED-branded talks. So frequently that I simply had to write this blog.

Just as when we uptalk, when we insert an “I know, right” or a “right?” in professional talks, we subtly and not so subtly undermine our credibility.

As business presenters (and we are all presenters at many points in our careers), we must project authority and credibility and earn others’ attention. When speakers end sentences with “…right?,” listeners—subconsciously and not so subconsciously—think we’re pretty sure we’re making an accurate statement, but not 100%. Yet as thought leaders at the head of the table, or on stage, are we asking for opinions, or expressing our own? Are we seeking validity? Or do our ideas legitimately speak for themselves?

According to Laura (“Bo”) Roth, a leading speaker and pitch coach in Seattle, “When you sprinkle your talk with ‘right?,’ it can be annoying for the audience, especially for those who don’t yet see your point. You’re asking them to be hip to the scene, to nod yes, when–in fact–they may be thinking, ‘No’  or ‘I’m not sure.’ ‘Right’ is best used sparingly, and even better when used for comic effect.”

Clearly, to be positioned as influencers, to be followed and to gain the greatest respect for our work and our content, we’re wise to remove this habit from our speech.

When speaking formally from stage, tasked with a sales presentation, and even in informal work meetings, let’s become more aware of our word choice so we can begin to eliminate this habit. And replace ambiguity and uncertainty with authority and conviction in the power of our beliefs.

So instead of “The air-speed velocity of an unladen African swallow is 95mph, right?” [even when the “right?” is soft or muffled], simply say, “The air-speed velocity of an unladen African swallow is 95mph.” Full stop.

To know whether this nasty habit is drifting into our speech patterns, we can ask others to draw our attention to our ticks so we can adjust accordingly. We can also video or audio record ourselves as we listen for and practice eliminating these extraneous words.

We’ll then all contribute to a world filled with more confident, believable and powerful presenters. Right? Right.