Um…Beware of Verbal Pauses!

Actually, the reason I chose this subject is, well, actually, the work I do is, actually, helping successful people get more of what they want and, actually, most of my clients are professionals and, uh, entrepreneurs who are actually trying to get, ahh, more clients and, um, grow their businesses or practices, and, like, if they’re not in a professional practice or, ah, a business, uhm, I can help them, and even then, uh, do better, at their, um, careers, and, um, their professional relationships…

OK, so no one really writes like that.  Yet, every day, I listen to professionals talk like that, in conversations that sound just like what I have written above.

Recently, I facilitated a sales coaching workshop for professionals, during which I sent Peter, a fairly successful financial advisor, into another room to make a “prospecting” call to someone else in the group.  We were all able to hear Peter’s side of the conversation on speakerphone.

He rang, and after asking for the “prospect” (who I appointed from the lot right after he had left the room), Peter began to explain why he was calling:

Actually, the reason I’m calling you today is, well, actually, the work I do is…

And so the conversation continued, punctuated throughout with Peter’s version of  the “um”: “actually“.

Peter was unaware that I was recording the call.  When he returned to the room, I suggested to him that perhaps there were too many verbal pauses in his conversation.

Verbal pauses?” he asked defensively.  “What do you mean?

Did you ever notice,” I responded, “how often you use the word ‘actually’?

I don’t say ‘actually’ a LOT,” he insisted.

The other workshop participants chuckled warmly.  When I played back the recording, we all watched him gasp.

How come my associates never pointed that out to me?!?” he asked when the recording had finally finished.

It’s easy for someone who works with you every day to tune out small things like this,” I explained.  Having been gentle enough to call this a “small thing”, I turned to the group and asked them whether it really mattered that there were so many verbal pauses in Peter’s conversation.  After all, I told them, he is already making a good living in his profession.

I didn’t really understand why until you pointed it out,” said one, “but I didn’t feel as though he was being very effective.  Listening to it a second time, I could see I was being distracted by all the verbal pauses.

It made him sound a lot less sure of himself than I think he is,” commented another member of our group.

Yeah,” chimed in a third, “It made him sound less confident—like he wasn’t all that experienced or successful.

Do you think,” I asked them, “that nerves (or fear) might be driving all of those verbal pauses?

Actually…” began another member, who then stopped to accept the laughter that erupted.

Yes,” she began again, and continued the discussion that ended our session that day.  We talked about how different fears—not being certain about what to say and how to say it, and being afraid of getting shut down, to name just two—contribute to our need to use those pauses in our prospecting conversations.

What if you recorded a few of your calls or meetings with potential clients?  If you don’t have a recording device of some kind, you can also get a friend or colleague to act out sales conversations with you, asking him or her to point out verbal pauses and other distracting things you may do when you’re in the midst of your work.

Better still, let me help you become as good at talking with potential or current clients as you possibly can be.  Stop pausing—keep practicing, and keep REACHING…