Dispelling a Myth.
"Dealing with Endings"
His first explanation of procedures for the trip followed by a description of passing landmarks went for 48 minutes and not once in that time did he have a downward inflection on the end of a sentence. Despite the fact, that for six days a week seven months of the year, this coach driver does numerous commentaries on similar topics I was constantly engaged in the information he was delivering and believed he was interested in it, too.
The fact that he kept his sentence endings ‘up’ made a significant contribution to this very successful performance.
‘UP’ vs ‘DOWN’ Endings
When facing the camera for the first time many presenters find that they always drop sentence endings. They in fact find it hard to do otherwise often arguing that to push an ending ‘up’ feels unnatural. Many producers who turn to training TV Presenters insist on endings being ‘dropped’ and even some TV Presenter Courses apply this priniciple. A Presenter who had completed a course at The Rehearsal Room and then attended another class to gain more experience wrote … “they say we should finish each sentence on a lower inflection. This gives the opportunity to go up higher on the next sentence. They also recommend finishing the ending of the whole piece on a lower inflection, too. I’m a bit confused as I remember you teaching us to try and keep it up at the end of sentences and of a piece, to keep the audience engaged. Have I got that right?”
The Ups and Downs of It
You will hear a lot of newsreaders going down at the end of a sentence so the next sentence can go up. But my point is always that in life, if you are telling me something important, you always keep your endings up because that's how you make sure I know it's important. If you drop off endings it sends a sub-textural message that you aren't really committed to it. That's perhaps why newsreaders do it. It's because they are trying to maintain their neutrality. This is a longstanding news reading tradition – i.e. they are just delivering the news not commenting on it.
But my bus driver was committed, interested, sometimes challenged and often passionate about the topics he was exploring.
Lots of presenters drop the ends of sentences, too. Dropping the ending gives you a nice cosy, resolved feeling - so it’s an option. For the novice it’s the easy option. When standing in front of the camera for the first time, feeling a bit self-conscious and in unfamiliar territory the fear is that it will appear pushy even impolite to dominantly emphasise an ending of a sentence. Under these circumstances it might feel rude to be trying to take control and appear to know what you are talking about. But I can’t imagine a teacher standing in front of a class of year nine students dropping the ends of many sentences. That teacher wants to appear knowledgeable, on top of their material and in control of the class.
Exceptions to Every Rule
I did hear a fantastic commentary/narration for the BBC documentary ‘Wild China’ where the narrator (BERNARD HILL) dropped the ending of every sentence for the whole hour and I thought he made it work superbly. (Not everyone agrees with me … critic James Walton wrote, disparagingly, “the narrator, Bernard Hill announces almost everything, however unremarkable, in tones of awed disbelief.") However, even though I thought on this occasion it was fine, dropping endings should be the exception rather than the rule.
'Up’ endings keep the presenters point of view connected to the story in a positive and active way. This is an area of constant challenge in my TV Presenters classes but everyone agrees that when you hear a good and trusted 'up' ending it is far superior to the often-predictable alternative. ‘Up’ endings are really good value. They keep drama high and hope of resolution active and optimistic. The other option is often repetitive, lacking in confidence and diminishes the power of the story. Only occasionally is it entirely appropriate.
Whatever your views on this, a fully rounded presenter needs to be able to do both. As keeping endings ‘up’ is the option that everyone finds hardest you need to practice it A LOT. Make it ordinary so you can do it comfortably.
WHAT ABOUT THE ACTOR?
It is the same for an actor with a line of dialogue or any sentence in a speech. Dropping the ending might make it feel nice but it takes the energy, drama, purpose, hope, excitement, drama, fear etc out of the story. It stops it being active and makes it cosily neutral. It frequently becomes a pattern and therefore predictable. And it's safe.
If you want to keep your story active and your audience engaged, then make sure that your endings have an upward energy not a resolving or submissive one. It’s actually not difficult. Just ask my coach driver.
And when I tell you that my Northern Territory holiday was ...
I’ll be keeping my endings ‘UP’ … because I want you to believe me.
NOTE: When referring to keeping an upward inflection for a sentence ending I am NOT talking about giving an upward inflection to the last syllable of the last word in the sentence. I am meaning that the entire sentence structure should be delivered with a sense that it is dealing with material that has a growing importance.
Richard Sarell - SJune 2010
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