Recently I listened to a roundtable discussion on the future of our city. Most short speeches were present with the speed of lightning. The speakers were professional architects, City Planners and Strategic Planners. There pitches were fast and felt like they were trying to beat the clock or just get done and back to their seats. As an audience it was difficult to absorb their points and understand their arguments or message. But later on in the round table discussions, the experts seemed to settled down and began pausing when they spoke it was more conversational and spontaneous. I only wish they could have viewed their individual opening presentations. (3-5 min long) on video tape to see the difference between the formal pitch and the round table discussion. Maybe next time in the back of the room someone will remove the green and red lights that keep the presenter focused on time rather than content with a sign that says take ” Deep breath, pause and speak”
What is the lesson for presenters to learn from this story? I think it is to realize that small changes like eye contact and pauses can make a big difference in how your speech is received and remembered. The speed and pace of you’re talking has to find a natural balance—not to fast and not to slow. To monitor your natural pace you need to use the power of the pause. People who provide their audience time to digest their ideas and pitches have more success because they make it easier for people to ponder and assimilate their message. The next time you watch a speech from a TED Conference or C-Span pay attention to the really good speakers who use the pause to gather their ideas and others who distract you with their rapid fire deliver and fill speech such as um and other verbal tics. Watch how they end a sentence or paragraph. Notice their ability to drop their voice and pause. The use of a well placed pause gives the listeners — time to absorb and reflect on the words and the message. But when a presenter stands up in front of an audience, the stress of the situation triggers the brain chemistry to the “fight or flight response because of a rush of adrenaline which produces an increase heart rate and blood pressure that if not controlled causes the presenter who is anxious to speak faster and rush past the pauses. As a presenter you must remember that speech tempo is impacted by stress and anxiety. This faster pace delivery can lead to misunderstanding, overload and confusion for listeners.
Word and speech acceleration takes away from your ability to connect and meet your objectives for the presentation. Rapid pace not only makes a presenter appear anxious; it runs words together. Professional speakers can learn a lot from watching actors who pay as much attention to the cadence of their speech as they do to the tone of their voices; and so, when actors end their sentences, they pause to punctuate the meaning of an idea.
Presenters would do well to give their audiences a moment to absorb and reflect on their message by pausing at the ends of their phrases. The best way to create a pause is to drop your voice at the end of your sentence or phrases. Sadly, many presenters who are inexperienced and anxious do the opposite; they let their voices fade off or rise at the end of their sentences, producing the dreaded “girlie uplift” . If you concentrate on dropping your voice, you will not only sound more authoritative, you will add those valuable pauses so your will stay attentive and involved in your speech.