How to Pose Questions for a Stronger Leadership Image

How to Pose Questions for a Stronger Leadership Image

A Fantastic Technique to Use for Public Speaking

By Elizabeth Peterson, M.A., CCC-SLP

Excerpt from, How to Speak like a Broadcaster and Lead like a CEO


When American English is taught, students are instructed that when posing a question, it should end on upspeak, or upward inflection. However, when it comes to business communication or public speaking situations and it is important to have a leadership and executive presence, the psychology for how to pose questions is very different. For a stronger leadership image during public speaking, when you ask a question, speak along the speech stairs and end on a downward note. While public speaking, if you want to be perceived as more credible or having leadership, then end the question on the lower note, just as you would normally for statements on the speech stairs intonation strategy.


Let’s Test It

Say each question below using upspeak and then again by bringing the question down the speech stairs and ending the final syllable on the lower step.

  • Can you fax this for me?
  • Should we call the client today?
  • Before you leave, may I speak with you?
  • Is this alright?
  • Do you have any questions?


Take a moment to reflect on your observations and observe this behavior in others. This may be a good exercise to record so you can compare the differences. Ending on upspeak causes your voice to go higher in pitch, creating thinner vocal tones and speaking with more nasal resonance. Thin, high voices are not the speaking characteristics of perceived leaders. When it comes to professional business or public speaking situations and you want to be perceived as smart and in charge of a situation, phrase your questions down the speech stairs and end the final syllable on the lower step. If you lead meetings or deliver presentations and ask questions throughout them, posing questions down the speech stairs will have you sounding as if you are confident and in full control, with well-established leadership traits.


If this is new behavior for you, it will feel funny at first. Often my clients wonder if they sound mean or cold posing questions with a lower tone. Like anything else, when you learn something new it is going to feel awkward at first. When you bring your question down the speech stairs, your speech rate is more controlled making your articulation sharper which sounds more professional. You are also sending your sound waves to your lower throat where your optimal pitch range is positioning you to speak with more powerful and stronger tones. Remember, the communication perception of leadership is speaking with controlled intonation and in a lower and stronger voice.


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Speech and Voice - Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson, Denver’s leading speech therapist and executive speech coach for over 22 years and is the author of Accent Reduction 101, Third Edition 2017 and Speak Like a Broadcaster & Lead Like a CEO, Third Edition 2017 . Learn More

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Elizabeth Peterson M.A., CCC-SLP Speech Therapist

Speech Therapist & Executive Speech Coach for over 22 years
Licensed speech therapist in the State of Colorado
Certified with the American Speech Language Hearing Association
CSHA, Colorado Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationASHA, American Speech-Language Hearing Association