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How to Deliver a TED Talk: Silence is Not Your Enemy

“People use filler words because they are uncomfortable with silence.”

How to Deliver a TED Talk by Jeremey Donovan, page 73

I offered this advice earlier in the week: “Don’t speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” (Powerful advice)

Unless you make it a point to notice how prevalent the use of filler words is, it will go unnoticed. Start by listening to others and to reporters on television. Yes, even the so-called pros fill silence when they are not fully prepared or rehearsed.

Some of the more common ones include, “Um,” “Eh,” “You know,” “As I was saying,” “Follow me,” “Like,” and more.

Click on the book to grab your own copy of "How to Deliver a TED Talk"

Click on the book to grab your own copy of “How to Deliver a TED Talk”

The main point today is to recognize that most people feel very uneasy with silence. In fact, as a professional speaker, I learned early in my career the power of the pause (prolonged silence) when trying to capture the attention of an audience. It is virtually a sure thing.

But the majority of people can’t pull this off. As a matter of fact, 1.5 seconds of noiseless conversation sounds like four minutes of deafening silence. People have an urge to fill that void. So they talk. And if they have nothing concrete to say, they think of things to say while talking. And to give their minds time to conjure up something of value, they make noises while their brains try to engage. Hence, the filler.

Let’s start with an exercise. The next time you are with somebody you feel comfortable being with, try to introduce silence into the conversation. After they end a thought, don’t immediately add to it. Silently count to ten before speaking. Try it. This just may be the most difficult thing you have challenged yourself with in the last 20 years. Just be silent.

In nine out of ten instances, I will tell you what will happen. After two seconds of you not saying anything, they will continue talking. I’m not making this up. That is exactly what will happen.

But I digress. We are not focusing on silence today. We are trying to eliminate filler language. So let me try to tie the two things together. During your silent pauses, take the time to think about your next verbal contribution. In truth, this is like mental rehearsal.

Chances are when you do begin talking again, your message will be void of “Um,” “You know” and “Like I was saying.” You will come across as a more polished professional, and people will be more prone to heed your advice.


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