Silence Is More Than Golden – It’s When You Look Most Intelligent To Your Audience
I belong to (an international speakers training group). When it’s my turn to give a presentation, they count my “ums, ahs and uhs,” which is good.
The problem is, I can’t stop saying ums, ahs and uhs! I actually think it gets worse when I know they are being counted. Help! How do I stop myself? Regards, Fred (name changed)
Great question Fred!
Welcome to a large club, you are addicted to the verbal pause.
So what is a verbal pause? A typical verbal message has two parts: the actual spoken word and the pause between the segments, sentences, and thoughts. As you know, it is natural to pause when you speak; it’s when you breathe. However, when you fill the pause with words such as “um, ah, uh, and you know,” it detracts from your message.
Verbal pauses are distracting. Instead of looking calm, confident and intelligent, the audience sees you searching for the next “real” words. Even worse than saying “um” and “ah” is saying an extended word or bridge word. Examples of bridge words are “aanndddd,” “bbuutttt” and “soooo.”
Eliminating the verbal pause is a two-step process: awareness and practice. First, it’s important to be aware that it is in the silence that you will look most intelligent. It allows the listener to catch up with what you said and have a moment to reflect or commit your message to memory.
Second, the “um,” “ah,” “uh” and “you knows” are warning signs that you need to breathe. They are all exhales and a signal that your brain is not getting enough oxygen to continue to think clearly.
When the brain has all the oxygen it needs, it’s easy to remember things, think clearly and appear credible and confident. When you run out of oxygen, your brain starts feeding unintelligible words to your mouth — your clue to stop talking and start breathing.
A Strange but True Fact About the Silent Pause
To maintain the attention of the listener(s) during a silent pause, you must use a “frozen” hand gesture. Holding a hand gesture without moving it throughout the pause allows the listener’s mind to see, feel, interpret and internalize your message, which adds extra impact to what you just said.
Move or change the gesture only when you begin to speak again if you want to hold the floor, or connect what you previously said to what you’re about to say. If you want to disconnect the two thoughts, drop the gesture before you speak again.
How Long Do I Pause In Silence?
The size of the audience determines how long you pause. In a normal one-to-one conversation, a pause is short: only a second or two to get a complete breath.
When talking to a small audience of 20 or less, keep your pause just a couple of seconds long. Watch a clock – two seconds can feel like a long time. A pause of three seconds may add emphasis to what was just said, but longer and the small audience thinks you are done or lost your train of thought.
You have more latitude with a large audience. A pause of four to six seconds and the audience will think the pause is to emphasize what was just said… and those that were not paying attention will begin to wonder what they missed. A silent pause longer than eight to ten seconds, and the listener(s) will begin to fill the silent void, frozen hand gesture or not.
Watch a TV preacher sometime and notice how they use an extended silent pause. The extended pause is to encourage you to reflect and agree with what was just said…. They have mastered the extended or “for emphasis” silent pause.
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