The Science Behind Pausing While Speaking

Did you know there is science behind speaking slowly?  Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed the phone calls of telemarketers and found that people who paused frequently during their pitch were more persuasive than callers who spoke uninterrupted.  The researchers say people typically pause about five times a minute. This speech pattern sounds more believable to listeners than when you spit out words without any breaks.

Nighat Dad’s speech above is a good example of the power of pausing.  She gives a passionate, intelligent speech, with a very powerful premise.  But occasionally she rushes, and when she does, her words come out in a nervous jumble, and she has trouble with syntax and grammar.  Her speech is markedly better when she pauses at the end of each thought.

What do you think?  Does pausing work for you?

What Makes for a Great Attention Getter?

I LOVE this acceptance speech.  And a big part of what makes Sam Rockwell’s acceptance of the 2018 Best Supporting Actor Award so excellent is the attention getter he gives at the top.  What makes it so great?  Here’s my thoughts:

  1. It includes a touching personal story about his parents! – Stories are your STRONGEST weapon against audience boredom, y’all.
  2. It’s not only a story, but, also, a short joke, with a great punchline – notice the way that Mr Rockwell sets up his story to be solemn, and then takes us in a surprising direction.  Jokes are GREAT icebreakers.  A great joke needs to be BRIEF and have the ELEMENT OF SUPRISE.  Mr Rockwell’s joke has both.
  3. His icebreaker is appropriate for the occasion – it’s about going to the movies with his parents, and he uses the story as a way of demonstrating both his love of movies and his appreciation of his parents.

How to Pace a Tech Talk

A good percentage of my client’s presentations deal with technology and science.  There are numerous hurdles to overcome when presenting technology; how to make data interesting, how to use metaphor to make complex concepts digestible, how to use wit and humor to engage the audience, etc.  But the most difficult aspect of talking science for many presenters is the manner in which they speak.

I think Pranav Mistry gives a good speech here despite having imperfect English.  There are moments when his excitement gets the best of him, and he talks too quickly, but the bulk of his presentation is done at a measured pace.  When he takes the time to breathe in between thoughts, and slow down, he is much more clear.  These “micro-pauses” allow his brain to process what his articulators (lips, tongue, lower jaw, and soft palate) are doing and gives him a moment to think about language.  Most of Mr. Mistry’s pronunciation mistakes (some w-v confusion, syllable stress mistakes, problems with phrasing) occur when he is speaking quickly.  His brain doesn’t have time to think about pacing, articulation and the like.

You can imagine the left frontal lobe to be a little like a busy highway.  The more congested the neural pathways are that connect the brain together, the less likely they are to transmit information.  If you speak fast, you clog your frontal lobe with information, and it cannot do what it does best, produce language.   So take your time!

 

How Fred Rodgers Saved Public Television with a Six Minute Speech

“On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers, host of the (then) recently nationally syndicated children’s television series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (named Misterogers’ Neighborhood at the time), testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce Subcommittee on Communications to defend $20 million in federal funding proposed for the newly formed non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was at risk of being reduced to $10 million. The subcommittee chairman, Senator John Pastore (D-RI), unfamiliar with Fred Rogers, is initially abrasive toward him. Over the course of Rogers’ 6 minutes of testimony, Pastore’s demeanor gradually transitions to one of awe and admiration as Rogers speaks.  Eventually, Pastore is won over, and the CPB is awarded its full funding.” – Daniel Deibler

The question is, how did he do it?  I think there are six things that Mr. Rodgers does that makes this one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen:

  1. He speaks from a clear, logical set of points, centered around a simple argument – that public television can be used to enhance a child’s emotional life, not hinder it.
  2. He centers his speech around a story; how he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and that story has a very clear beginning, middle, and an end.
  3. He makes fantastic contrasts – he compares what $6000 dollars could do for television; pay for one hour of quality children’s programming or two minutes of violent cartoons.
  4. He knows his audience – the senator he is speaking to was an advocate for educational television, and Fred Rodgers makes mention of it in his speech.
  5. He makes piercing eye contact – effective nonverbal communication enhances your impression with your audience, and it all starts with the eyes.
  6. He just really knows his shit – he can quote statistics about arcane budgeting tasks, but also snippets of songs he worked on months ago.

Ultimately what makes this speech work is compassion.  Fred Rodgers believed passionately in what he spoke about, so he had the energy and focus to do the hours of work necessary to put together this short speech.  And that passion shows through in his every gesture, his every word.  So, today,  think about what you care about before you begin speaking, and remember, if you keep in mind that every speech is an opportunity, you too can change the world.