Your browser does not support JavaScript!


 Cognitive Chunks and Pausing: A Tip and a Common Liability

I sometimes imagine how speech and language were first 'invented' by cavemen.  (I promise I'll research this and get back to you).  Maybe a certain grunt- like 'uhg'- meant hairy mammoth.. and 'wee' meant run, or running.  I figure it all started with single words- perhaps some nouns and verbs- then expanded into adjectives.. adverbs.. maybe a few prepositions…
Jumping ahead to 2011- we think we're pretty sophisticated when it comes to sharing information orally- but the caveman in us often tries to take over  when we 'attempt to do voiceovers' .  I can probably attribute about 30% of my work to the wackiness that ensues: I've seen smart reporters not get hired.. get warned that their tracking needs improvement.. or become so crazed with 'trying to do it right' that they become all-consumed and  forget how they normally talk all day long. 
Before we go further: please understand that there is no one 'right way' to track a specific  sentence.   The 'right way' is the natural way- not the histrionic 50's 'broadcast voice' that had its place 60 years ago. If I close my eyes I shouldn't be able to distinguish between your standup and your tracking.

Your Tip: Cognitive Chunks

I referred briefly to Cognitive Chunks in Blog no. 8.  Here's an easy way to approach your voice-overs.  It's also a good fix for those of you who have to ask 'how would say it?".  

Look at the words in a sentence and ask yourself 'what's going on here?'.  Your answer should be as long as possible.  Most sentences should be comprised of just one chunk or two.  
Example 1: "The alleged attack on a 32-year-old female maid at a midtown hotel occurred on Saturday."  That's what's going.  It should be seen as one 'cognitive chunk'.. and spoken as such.  If you're inclination is to go caveman on us- e.g.. pause/emphasize  'attack' or 'maid' or 'hotel- you're in trouble. 
Example 2:  "Strauss Kahn remains in custody until an 11a.m. hearing in Manhattan criminal court".  This could be one big chunk: or you might see it as 2 chunks: with 'in Manhattan criminal court' serving as secondary information.  It's up to you.
Example 3: "The meeting will take place as officials discuss increasing a $155 billion loan package to Greece amid concerns the country may be unable to finance its debt next year."

Now here: you'd most likely see 2 chunks. 

Common Liability: Unnecessary Pausing
It reminds me of the lurching that occurs when we first learn how to drive a standard shift.  It's life interrupted.  By 'putting in pauses' because you think they should be there.. or because you think it sounds professional- you're doing the same thing to our ears.  We lose the pull and the flow that keep us listening- and marveling- at your information.   
Solution: trust your innate use of communication and semantics- and trust your cognitive chunks.    I play a game with my clients: say this sentence- and you are not allowed to pause!   They look at me like I'm crazy and have asked them to do the impossible.  The result is always an eye-opener.  Your brain takes over and will naturally insert tiny hesitations- I call them touch-go pauses- as needed.    
Here's a one chunk sentence.  If you read it aloud- and don't plan any pauses-  I'll bet you'll hear yourself going the touch-go route.  Warning: I'd say that 2 would be overkill.
"Trump is the second Republican in a matter of days to say no to a bid for the GOP nomination."

Tracking.. voiceover.. whatever you choose to call it: put those sentences on a microscope.  See your information as a series of cognitive chunks.. and send each one out firmly from your stomach.. Each chunk is unique.. each chunk may have implications. Enter the world of each chunk.  If you know your story the innuendo and interpretation will naturally come out. 
And no orchestrated pauses!  They'll occur naturally.  But when in doubt- leave it out. 
Good luck! 

Previously featured on the Radio Television Digital News Association as the News Coach blog series.


Return to Joanne's Blog Menu

Stevens Media Consulting Logo