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!

 

Hillary Clinton and the Endless Nod

Do you think public speaking has to do solely with what you do behind the podium?  Are you aware of your body language when you are onstage but not presenting?  According to Bloomberg Politics, Hillary Clinton nodded a whopping 406 times during Bernie Sanders endorsement speech, which proves a very simple public speaking truism: be aware of your body language anytime you step on stage.  Keep this in mind if you are leading a Q and A, or taking part in a roundtable.

Gesture is very important when giving a speech; using definitive hand gestures are proven to enhance our impression of a speaker.  But gesture is less important while listening to another speaker.  It can pull focus. Mrs. Clinton would have been bettered served by utilizing stillness in this context.