Controlling Uptalk and Like

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109

UptalkConcept description

Persuasive speakers avoid uptalk, a way of speaking that puts an upward inflection on the last word of a statement that makes it sound like a question when it’s not, and they avoid excessive use of the word like.


In her YouTube video, Uptalk in Public Speaking (reference below), Allison Shapira encourages speakers to move from uptalk to what she calls straight talk, where the voice follows a normal conversational arch and ends naturally. This is particularly important in introducing oneself, so that a statement sounds like a statement, not a question.


To quote from wikiHow (reference below):

Every language has its own vocabulary of vocalized pauses, which are meaningless words used to keep the conversation flowing smoothly. In English, these are usually “um,” “er,” “ah,” or “you know.” In North America, especially among young people, it’s common to use the word “like” as a vocalized pause. This became popular with the rise of “Valley-speak,” which is a stereotypical manner of speaking that originated in Southern California in the ’70s. If you’re, like, totally hooked on using the word “like,” see Step 1 below to start speaking more professionally and stop being (like, so) annoying.

It recommends the following course of action to reduce the use of like:

  1. Know how the word “like” is supposed to be used. In English, there are only two correct, proper usages for the word “like.” These are:
    Similarity – “This tastes like chicken.”
    Enjoyment – “I like this movie.”
  2. Pause when you would typically insert “like. Vocalized pauses are just filling places where you don’t have anything to say. So, each time you anticipate saying “like,” pause instead. This approach works for other vocalized pauses, such as: “um,” “er,” “ah,” and “you know.” Pausing, rather than saying “like,” has the added benefit of making you sound more confident and authoritative.
  3. Record yourself to see how often you use the word “like” incorrectly. Once you can pinpoint your most common mistakes, it’ll be easier to catch yourself in action and make corrections. In any conversation or when speaking freely for a few minutes, you’ll probably notice that you misuse “like” in a few noticeable patterns. Make note of these. The most common of these patterns are addressed in the following steps.
  4. Stop using “like” when quoting someone. Whenever you catch yourself using “like” to put words in someone’s mouth, replace it with “said.” Better yet, come up with a verb that more specifically describes how the person spoke: yelled, whispered, answered, exclaimed, insisted, etc. Doing this helps your reader or listener imagine what you’re describing, so your stories and conversations will be more vivid and enjoyable.
  5. Don’t use “like” to approximate. When you’re giving a quantity that you’re not sure of, you might use the word “like” to indicate that you’re guessing or approximating. In this case, it can easily be replaced by the following words: about, approximately, or roughly.
  6. Don’t use “like” before adjectives and adverbs. You might also find yourself plugging other fillers such as “so” or “really” in between.
  7. Improve your vocabulary. Your speech might feel “naked” without the word “like” to fill in gaps. The best remedy for this is to become more articulate. Whenever a statement feels plain, try to think of ways you can be more specific or descriptive.

BBC News Magazine, 2014, The unstoppable march of the upward inflection? at, accessed 30 January 2016., What Can Jeopardy Tell Us About Uptalk? at, accessed 30 January 2016.

Hank Davis, 2010, Psychology Today,, accessed 30 January 2016.

Emma Green, 2014, A Female Senator Explains Why Uptalk Is Part of Women’s ‘Nature,’ The Atlantic, at, accessed 30 January 2016.

The Aidanator, 2015, STOP SAYING LIKE!!, 4-minute teenage video, at, accessed 30 January 2016.

Rob Asghar, 2013, How I, Like, Conquered Saying ‘Like,’ Forbes,, accessed 30 January 2016.


Drawn from Allison Shapira, 2013, Uptalk in Public Speaking, at, accessed 30 January 2016; WikiHow, How to Stop Saying the Word “Like,” at, accessed 30 January 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Speaking to Persuade and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 2 February 2016.

Image: Illustration by Athena Gubbe, Psychology Today,, accessed 30 January 2016.