Clients often ask me to help them slow down. They think they’re talking too fast, and suspect that the audience isn’t catching everything they say, let alone remembering it.
If this is true for you, the best way to change it is not (as you might think) to… try… to… speak… more… slowly.
The best way to slow down and make your words more memorable is to add pauses between your thoughts.
Why Pause? Because You and Your Audience Both Need a Break!
My husband told me a story that’s attributed to the great cellist Pablo Casals.
Casals performed well into old age, and a student supposedly once asked him, “Maestro, you’re not a young man, but you play with extraordinary vigor. How do you maintain your energy?”
Casals is said to have replied, “I rest between the notes.”
As a public speaker, you can also “rest between the notes” (or, in this case, the ideas), and give your audience a chance to do the same, by using pauses.
How Does Speaking Without Pauses Sound? It Depends on Which Group Is Doing It
Well-Educated People often write complex sentences that have subtexts, subordinate clauses, asides, embellishments, and elaborations that demontrate your ability to manage the interweaving of several strands of complex thought at once, but it would be a mistake to assume that this kind of sentence structure translates successfully from writing to speaking because, as any audience member can tell you, hearing is a very different activity than reading, and requires time to assimilate one idea before you can absorb the next one.
Young People: Millenials, or people who were born after 1980, have been raised to communicate in a world of social media that has taught them to write their thoughts continuously without having to stop for air, so not surprisingly, many Millenials, or members Gen Y as they’re sometimes called, find it difficult to put a pause into the flow of their thoughts even when they’re speaking, and in fact rarely seem to use periods to punctuate what they’re saying until they run out of breath or things to say, whichever comes first.
The Rest of Us: The rest of us are also inclined to “under-pause,” but instead of missing a pause opportunity by running on for too long, we do it by inserting a sound like “uhm,” “ah,” or “y’know” into what would otherwise be silence.
Whether you’ve missed out on pausing because you’re writing phrases in your head, because you’re dashing from one thought to the next, or because you haven’t yet trained yourself to tolerate, let alone embrace silence when you speak, the good news is: These habits can be broken!
And learning to pause will unlock a whole new level of public speaking mastery. It just takes a small amount of effort, repeated often.
Here’s an exercise to get you started:
Try This Exercise To See How Pausing Can Be Practiced and Learned
Read what follows out loud. Slowly say “one hundred, two hundred” out loud every time you see the instruction to (pause). This will help slow you down and give you a sense of the timing of a “pause.”
When you rest between thoughts, you’re giving yourself a nice break.
You’re making the space to slow yourself down, relax, and check out how your audience is reacting to what you just said.
That same pause also gives your audience time to take in what they just heard.
This increases the chance that they’ll remember what you said.
Pauses are invaluable to you and your audience.
So have fun practicing pauses, and your public speaking will become more relaxed and memorable!