When it comes to communication, many people believe that the more we say or write, the more knowledgeable and credible we will appear. In most cases, the opposite is true. The more we speak or write, the more we confuse and frustrate our audiences.
Research by Dr. Paul King, Chair of Communication Studies at Texas Christian University, revealed that listeners experience what he calls “anxiety in listening performance.” King found that the longer a speaker talks, the more listeners believe they need to remember, which creates anxiety. The more listeners think they need to remember, the more pressure their brains take on, creating a backlog of information that causes the brain to fatigue and tune out.[i]
Communicating too much information invites our listeners and readers to shut down and disengage. Although it may seem counterintuitive, brevity creates greater impact.
You will make your message more impactful by practicing brevity:
1. Ditch the details. Share only information that is necessary to achieve the desired results. Avoid getting bogged down in irrelevant details. Listeners and readers want a clear, to-the-point message without any fluff.
2. Stick to three or fewer key points. Research like Dr. King’s shows that giving less information actually increases the amount of information your listeners and readers remember. When you commit to “less is more,” your audience is more likely to take action.
3. Prepare, think and speak/write in bullet points. Most of the individuals I observe speak in run-on sentences – which lead into paragraphs – causing them to ramble and take forever to get to the point. Think and speak in bullet points. Bullet points are easier for your listeners and readers to follow, digest, remember and act on.
Have you ever noticed that great comedians pause after delivering the punch line? The pause is where the experience lies for the audience. If comedians never paused, the audience would miss the next joke because they would still be thinking and laughing about the last one.
The same concept holds true in communication. Nonstop talking and run-on writing creates frustration for listeners and readers. They crave moments of silence to catch up and let your message sink in. Pausing gives listeners the chance to hear, process and internalize your message.
When people find themselves rambling (that is, if they are self-aware enough to notice), they continue talking, torturing their listeners even more. They believe that if they keep talking, eventually they will get to their point. A few well-positioned moments of silence resonate with listeners.
Having the self-awareness and discipline to stop talking is a powerful communication and influence skill. Not only does it benefit your audience, it puts you in control of the situation, what you want to say and how you are going to say it for greater impact. Leveraging the power of the pause also allows you to:
4. Adapt your message. The pause is where adaptability occurs. When you stop talking, you give your listeners the opportunity to ask questions and share their ideas, opening a dialogue that gives you insight into their needs and expectations. Pausing allows you to focus on what is happening in the moment so you can adapt your message on the fly.
5. Practice brevity. Become aware of when you are saying too much. Pause to gather your thoughts, refocus your message, take a relaxing breath and give your listeners time to catch up.
6. Eliminate filler words. Actually, okay, you know, like, and, basically and but are common filler words. The word “so” is especially prevalent. “So I want to talk to you about….” Filler words undermine your credibility. Replace filler words with a pause.
7. Get back on track. Our typical reaction when we forget what to say is to use filler words to hide the fact that we forgot and to give us time to think on our feet. Using filler words immediately communicates to listeners that we don’t know what to say. If you forget, stop talking! Trust your competence.
Pausing guarantees you will not lose your credibility and trust with your audience. The benefits of pausing are essential to influencing your audience to take action.
· Pausing gives your audience a chance to hear, understand and absorb your message. Pausing also invites your audience to share the conversation with you. When you create a two-way conversation with your audience, you are able to adjust your message based on their needs and expectations.
· Pausing creates curiosity and heightens anticipation. Pause before and after a specific point, fact or idea you want your audience to remember. Imagine the impact you will have when you describe the benefits of your company’s products or services.
· Pausing allows you to collect your thoughts and breathe to r-e-l-a-x. Pausing helps you gain control of your message and appear comfortable with your audience. You are able to communicate more information in less time because you are saying fewer words and giving yourself permission to think on your feet, which prevents you from rambling and wasting your audience’s time.
Take action TODAY to make sure your message is heard and understood and that you have influence.
· Ask your friends, family members and co-workers to let you know when you use filler words. Their feedback can immediately increase your awareness of non-words and help you create a new habit of being “filler-word FREE.”
· To remind yourself to avoid non-words and insert pauses, write PAUSE! on a Post-It® note and display it prominently (e.g., on your phone, your computer, etc.).
· Audio-record your conversations at least five times this week. We can easily record with our smartphones. For example, record yourself during a phone conversation. Do not record your listener; capture your side of the conversation. Immediately listen to your playback, paying attention to the words you used and where you added pauses. Consider how you came across rather than how you felt during the conversation.
[i] “Short and Sweet Speeches Lessen Audience Anxiety.” Bob Schieffer College of Communication. Texas Christian University, 9 Mar. 2014. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.