In written language, we have these magical little symbols called punctuation marks that help us pace our reading. When we see a comma, we insert a little half-pause into a sentence. When we see a period, we insert a full pause.
When we see a line break, we insert a slightly bigger pause, and one that signifies a change in topic or direction. But isn’t it interesting that we don’t exactly recreate these rules when we speak?
Verbal expression is so much more fluid and freeform. The way we speak is influenced by our upbringing, where we live and who we interact with most, our personality type, our mental and emotional state, and so on. In fact, we speak a little differently on any given day, in any given moment.
Image by Erwin Verbruggen, via Flickr
So, how does this relate to podcasting? Well, when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with someone, you’re usually mashing a whole lot of information together – what your interlocutor is saying, the pace she’s speaking at, her particular patterns of verbal filler, her body language, facial expression, and even personal energy (if you don’t mind my getting a little woo-woo for a moment).
The person you’re talking with might speak clearly or messily, but your brain will compensate as needed, jumping around from input to input and building a kind of “road map” of what’s happening in the conversation.
But of course, when you’re listening to a podcast, most of these inputs are stripped away, and you’re left with just a voice, saying things. With so little information for the brain to process, how do you give a listener that “road map?”
You do it with the careful use of pauses.
Pauses are magical; they take whatever you just said and render it twice as important. They also give a listener’s brain a chance to process the point you just made before you go on to make the next one. (Which is useful, because many of us process auditory information more slowly than visual information.)
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When I make a podcast, I spend a lot of time adjusting those pauses. When my guest says something really amazing but then immediately starts another sentence, I insert a little silence between them, so you can take in the full weight of the amazing thing they said.
If my guest is telling a long story, I carefully insert a little silence at each of the pivotal points, so you can more easily hear the emotional arc of that story. If my guest happens to change topics in the middle of an answer, I insert a pause to signify the change.
If my guest is a naturally fast speaker, I insert a little space here and there, so you don’t get tired trying to follow the rapid flow of speech. If my guest is a naturally slow speaker, I might even close up some of the pauses, so you don’t lose the impact of what’s being said.
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…And those little musical interludes I put in my podcasts? They’re a kind of pause, too. I insert them at points in the interview where we’re just finishing up one idea and are about to switch to another. I want you to have a chance to process what just happened in the interview, and get ready for what’s coming next.
It’s a subtle art, pausing. And interestingly, even after spending the last seven years adding pauses to podcasts, I still struggle to add them effectively to my verbal speech. I’m pretty comfortable pausing when I’m speaking in front of an audience, but in regular old conversation, nope.
The next time you listen to a CraftyPod podcast, see if you can hear the “road map” of pauses at work! And, wanna see more from this Podcasting Tricks series?