The Pause That Refreshes

“I, er, uh, ummm, basically, actually, you know what I mean”.

How many times have we heard this? No, we don’t know what you mean?  These are filler words that fill in for uncomfortable silences when we are not sure what to say or how to continue.

When we write, we have the ability to edit both the content and the structure of our message. When we talk, it is not so easy to do so. We may say words or ideas we wish we had not said or used words in ways we wish we had not. In addition, we may have used filler words that mean nothing and worse take away from our message.

In casual conversation, filler words may be excused. But even in casual conversation as opposed to formal presentations, their excessive use detracts from our message.

Why do we use these filler words?

Perhaps we need to think more about the topic idea or we are finding the exact word or we are distracted or we are unsure how to continue or how to respond to a question. Perhaps we are afraid of the silence or of talking too slowly as we take the time to find the exact words or ideas to continue?

Let us embrace the pause. The pause that refreshes, does indeed make a difference.

Barack Obama is a good example of a consummate orator who uses pauses beautifully. Most people speak at the rate of 150-190 words per minute. (Yes there are people who actually count spoken words.)  Obama has been clocked in at 90 words per minute. That’s a lot of pauses! How does he get them to work and why?

Obama’s use of pauses was described by Richard Newman of UK Body Talk, as “the equivalent of splashing highlighter on your words”.


Pauses can be used for many reasons:speaking-kids-can-communicate

  • Pauses allow you to convey emotion.
  • Pauses allow the speaker to catch his/her breath, to attain calm and even to swallow.
  • Pauses allow you to reduce your filler words so that you sound knowledgeable and authentic.
  • Pauses can occur at the clause level (within a sentence), between sentences and between paragraphs. They can be used for emphasis of a key idea or word, or when asking a rhetorical question or for creating some drama.
  • Pauses can occur even before you start to talk, such as with a Power Pause.  Focus on the eyes of a few in the audience and breathe and centre yourself. Even before you say your first words, the audience will wait as you have built some suspense and excitement.
  • Phrase your speech, speaking 3-4 words/ one idea at a time. This will slow you down and make you easier to understand as the pace allows the listeners to process your message more easily and deeply.
  • Think of putting in more commas in your spoken speech. Pauses allow your audience more time to connect with your message at the cognitive and experiential level.

Remember to:

  • Vary the length of your pauses so that you are engaging, interesting and not predictable.
  • When you are tempted to use a filler word- STOP TALKING and think of a new idea/word.
  • When you need to think of a response to a question- be comfortable with silence as you process the question and answer. PAUSING shows confidence and thoughtfulness.
  • When you are unsure how to start or finish a thought- take 30 seconds and think of one idea and how to start the sentence.

(Some ideas from Andrew Dlugan- ideas from Six Minutes)