Monday, 24 Sep, 2007 Science
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A Memorable Speaker - Not the One Speaking Clearly

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If you are ashamed that your speech is full of "ums", "ers" and "ahs" and think you are making your listeners mad, the latest scientific research suggests quite the contrary - these 'disfluencies' make you a more memorable speaker.

Often perceived by us as a mark of poor communication, the disfluencies slowing down our speech actually make our speech better understood and make listeners pay more attention.

The scientists from Stirling and Edinburgh universities invited volunteers to listen to a number of sentences, including sentences with disfluencies. They conducted a series of tests to find out how well the listeners could recall what was said.

It turned out that the "ers" inserted into the sentences had a significant effect on the ability of the subjects to remember the information. After hearing typical sentences with inserted disfluencies, the volunteers got 62 per cent of words correct compared to 55 per cent for sentences with no stumbles.

According to Dr Martin Corley, Edinburgh University's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, a disfluency becomes a useful interruption to the expected ritual of things. It is the same as if we were saying to ourselves "It's better to pay attention now, because what I expected was going to happen is in fact not going to happen".

Politicians, broadcasters, lawyers and other speakers, often try to iron out disfluencies from their speech. Now they may be pleased to find out that their ums may be judged as a sign of clear communication.

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