In July’s “Speaking For Impact,” I was coaching a thirty-something woman, who had just been hired by a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had a Master’s Degree in public policy and was working in government relations.
When she was delivering her prepared speech, there was a disconnect between what she was saying and how she appeared. Her words were strong and convincing, but her body language was betraying her. She seemed like a nervous southern belle.
However, with a few posture adjustments (standing balanced, feet at a comfortable distance apart and hands rested at her side), she went from demure to confident.
As she sat down, she declared, “Oh, I get it. Instead of standing like the President’s wife, I should stand like the President.”
I love those “aha” moments.
Barack Obama does it during Q & A. Condi Rice does it in press interviews. Ted Turner does them all the time. You might do it when you are unprepared.
Use those nasty filler words that make you sound ignorant, forgetful, unprepared or unsure of yourself.
What is the cure? The pause. It is the replacement for non words like um, ah, and, so, or well.
How do you get rid of them? Practice. Stand in front of a mirror. Sit at your desk and turn on the webcam. Stand in your living room and face the sofa. Begin speaking. After every sentence, stop for two seconds. Think about what you are going to say. Resist using any kind of a filler. Begin speaking again.
Do not be intimidated by this silence. It is not “dead” air, it’s “active” air. That’s because the audience is taking notes, visualizing, or processing the information.
I’ve read that it takes three weeks to change a habit. If that is so, you must practice this everyday, for 21 days, to see/hear a change. However, this hard work will pay off. Once you get rid of these fillers, you will look – and sound – more comfortable and confident.
In every speaking opportunity (be it one-on-one or in a group), there is one skill that will enhance your message and help the audience remember what you have said. It is a very effective tool.
(When scripted, Barack Obama uses the pause well, which highlights many of his strengths including clarity. When off the TelePrompTer, he fills the space between sentences with ums and ahs, making him sound tentative and obfuscating the message.)
Here’s how the pause enhances clarity. You should always stop at the end of every sentence. Because you are stopping and remaining silent for a moment, you are giving the listener a chance to process or reflect upon what you have said; the message becomes clearer. When you run sentences together, listeners might be keeping up with you, but they don’t have time to really absorb the information. Retention plummets; nothing stands out.
Additionally, this silence allows you to take a breath and think about what you are going to say next. When you give yourself a moment to think, you can avoid redundancies and digressions and focus on your next sentence. You become clearer.
To practice, say a sentence. Then tap your finger twice on the desk. Then say another sentence and tap. Repeat this pattern until you get into the habit of pausing at the end of every phrase. As you practice for the next three weeks, you will eventually vary the pace to sound less mechanical – yet achieve the goal of sounding clear.
In the next blog, I’ll talk about the other benefits of pausing.
On July 14, Judy Grant and I will be presenting “Speaking For Impact.” It is unique and incredible opportunity to discover your speaking strengths and learn how to leverage them in any presentation. The training is filled with valuable information, 5 on-camera exercises and the chance to finally receive the critical feedback you need to elevate your speaking style.
I will be in Monterey this week training newly-promoted Lieutenants in the art of public speaking and how to deal with the media. Then, I am off to San Diego to train law enforcement instructors on how to refine and elevate their speaking skills.
You can hear my thoughts on presentation by going to www.JobTalkAmerica.com. Click on the Archives button and find my picture. I offer tips on posture, gestures and animation, and dress and appearance.