The Power of the Pause

How many times have you found yourself counting the “ums” and “uhs” in a presentation? Pretty frustrating, but don’t let it continue – especially if that speaker is a colleague or friend.

First, don’t tell any speakers of their flaws right after the presentation. They’ll be on a “speaker’s high” (whether they were effective or not) and not open to constructive criticism. If possible, record the speech so that you can give them the opportunity to personally hear or see the effect of their non-words. They you can suggest the following:

  1. Practice pausing. Non-words are just pause fillers, and extend beyond the typical “um” and “uh” to “you knows,” “ands,” “okays,” “right” and the like. All anyone has to do is practice leaving pauses of two or three seconds after each sentence. In this exercise the speaker will at first feel the pauses are excruciatingly long.
  2. Get continuous feedback. Suggest that the speaker records herself at every opportunity (audio or video) while she is consciously practicing leaving pauses. She will hear the disparity between how much shorter the pauses actually are than they seem when speaking. This gives confidence to practice even more.
  3. Prove it! Pauses appear as measured thoughts. To prove this to the speaker stand up and give a short impromptu talk, consciously leaving pauses of varying length. (Don’t tell him what you are doing.) Then ask his reactions. He will perceive the longer pauses as appropriate additions to the presentation.

Non-words are a habit that pervades casual conversation as well as formal speeches. Those who have the non-word disease can become more aware and learn new habit patterns by recording their phone conversations or informal meetings. They can also ask the help of a close associate to give them direct feedback by just saying their name every time they utter an “um” or “uh.”

One comment on “The Power of the Pause

  1. Bert: You may not remember me from my attendance in the mid-1980’s with a class of two other executives in a Decker Communication class.
    My two co-trainees were the CEO of Clorox and the CEO of Coldwell Banker. I was then the CEO of Iconix – a presentation graphics company and was looking to partner with you to complement our technology with your methodology.
    We first met for lunch prior to my attending your course and while returning to your office we were waiting on the corner of Fourth and Mission for a pedestrian traffic sign — and you said” Dave what does that sign mean to you?” and I said ” It means we’re not supposed to cross the street until the signal changes” and you said ” NO, Dave, the signal is telling you to PAUSE! and this will be one of the main things we will teach you to do to better connect with your audiences.”
    On returning home that nite I recounted this story to my wife, who said immediately and with great gusto : TAKE THE COURSE“”
    And I did and learned a great deal from your team which I have applied for many years.
    So,it was great to google your name today and read your son’s blog post linking to you.
    If possible, I would like to reconnect with you in person, as I have a very special interest in applying the Bert Decker Method as a part of total system for building the brands of thought leaders who write books, and give speeches, and who need to understand and adapt to the newer multimedia benefits of blogging, podcasting, speaking, and launching their memes into the Creative Commons.
    Here is a link to a private blog post that outlines the benefits of what I call the Malcolm Gladwell effect.