Speaking Tips: It’s okay to listen

What is one of the most difficult skills to improve on as a speaker? If you read the title you probably guessed it. Without a doubt, the toughest speaking skill I’ve seen anyone master is the art of shutting up.

One of the ways this manifests itself is in our need to say “um” or “ah” during what should be a pause in our speaking. We do this in one-on-one conversation to hold the conversation so that we can keep on speaking. It’s about control, and our need to say everything that we’ve thought of, just in case one of our gems happens to solve world peace. Note: That did happen to me once, but I was interrupted before I could say it and lost the idea after 37 seconds.

In Toastmasters, I see many speakers struggle with eliminating those audible pauses, and that difficulty is for two main reasons:

1. It’s ingrained. We learn to do it at a young age and it’s an accepted speech pattern. No matter what, it’s a tough habit to break.

2. We know from that long experience if we give our opponents (audience) an opening, they’ll take the conversation from us and we’ll be stuck listening to someone else’s solution to world peace. Then they’ll get credit, fame, and the Nobel prize.

There’s the problem. Speakers practicing to eliminate those “ah” and “um” issues in their platform speaking suffer from an important shortfall: they don’t want (or try) to eliminate them in their day-to-day speech.

The trick: go ahead and listen a bit more often. Wow! That’s it. Just stop using “ah” and “um” and let the pause happen. If your opponent (friend, boss, etc.)  wants control of the conversation for now…let…them…have…it. Sorcery, right?

Here’s what you’ll find:

1. You’ll “ah”, “um” and make other noises less often.
2. You’ll speak a little less and listen a little more.
3. You’ll learn to get the important stuff out first, and end up just not saying the non-world-peace stuff anyway.
4. People like people who listen more than they talk (if you hate human’s…then this is a negative).
5. Your mouth will tire less often.

Eliminating those audible pauses from your speech patterns is a difficult and worthy goal. If nothing else, you’ll notice it yourself and become a more confident speaker. Think of it this way, it’s okay to practice the lost art of shutting up once in a while. You may find it makes you a better speaker, a better listener, and a better human. Give it a try…

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