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?

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.

Two Major Mistakes to Avoid While Planning to Moderate a Panel

As a speech coach in New York City, I am frequently called to help people who are preparing to moderate a panel. I often see the same two mistakes made as clients prepare; the first is making the panel discussion too long, and the second is making it too complex. Here is what you can do to avoid these critical errors.

First, make sure that you’re panel discussion is ONE HOUR, and ONE HOUR ONLY. Even the most lively panel discussion will begin to drag after an hour. Science has shown that our attention span is worse than that of a goldfish, so be sure to keep things moving!

Second, don’t muddy the water by having presentations woven into the event.  If you find dynamic enough panelists, and you are careful to be sure they represent opposing viewpoints (conflict and controversy are good!), your panel should be interesting enough.

If you want to moderate a successful panel discussion, keep it simple; dynamic panelists with opposing views, great curated stories (you do the curating), and a single, simple powerpoint slide to display your event information.

 

What Do You Do If You’re Heckled During a Major Speech?

It all started out so well. She was firing on all cylinders; strong voice, good eye contact, inspired writing with a personal touch, a couple of good self-deprecating jokes. However, Theresa May, giving a conference speech aimed at revitalizing her standing after a disastrous few months, found herself seriously derailed when a heckler handed her a “P45” form which is the British equivalent of a “pink slip”. What went wrong?  

My feeling is she didn’t handle this guy quickly and firmly enough. Let’s see some fire, Theresa! This heckler is making a mockery of you in public, and stealing a crucial moment from you (not to mention creating a major security risk). Maybe say something like, “you may think the problems of income inequality, affordable housing, and the sinking pound are laughable, but I assure you I do not. Get off my stage, young man.” Instead, Prime Minister May takes the P45 when it is handed to her, as if she is obligated to do so, and tries to continue as if nothing has happened. After a moment or two, she makes a nice joke, and hits back a bit, but not before her momentum is lost.

What do you think is the best way to handle a heckler?