Mr. Peters, you were right
My Speech and Debate teacher in high school was weird.
And I don’t mean the quirky kind of weird, like he collected snow globes from all his vacations and kept them in a curio cabinet.
I mean the kind of weird where he spent his weekends standing in the back of elevators making strange noises just to watch people get uncomfortable, and then he would come to class on Mondays and tell us about it.
He was as weird-looking as he was weird-acting, and I can only imagine that those poor people who walked into his elevator were legitimately concerned for their safety. But he found their discomfort hilarious and always related the stories to us with terrifying delight in his voice.
He also claimed he slept four hours a night.
I immediately disliked him.
I disliked him not just because he was creepy and seemed to view the world as his own sociology experiment.
He also had a massively over-inflated ego and frequently used words ever-so slightly incorrectly. For example, he would use the word “disinterested” when he meant “uninterested”, and that caused so much mental anguish for me, a burgeoning writer.
I went to an all-girls Catholic school where I received a phenomenal education, and I had the utmost respect for all my educators, except Mr. Peters. Any time any of my other teachers corrected me in a subject, I clung to their lesson and made every mental effort not to make the same mistake again.
Not Mr. Peters, though. When he gave me a directive, I nodded without expression and said, “Yes, Mr. Peters”, and I made a mental note never to make an effort to change, because no lesson from a pompous insomniac weirdo was ever going to be of value to me.
The one command he gave over and over: “Watch the verbalized pauses, Miss Weber.”
A “verbalized pause”, is where you fill space (usually because you’re thinking of the right thing to say) while you’re speaking with a sound or word that adds no content.
For example, “It’s not that I didn’t like your singing, I just um, don’t particularly love country music.” Or, “I mean, like, why is this staff meeting necessary?”
So I would be giving a speech, and doing quite well with it, actually, but I an “ah” or “uh” would slip in somewhere, and he would shout from the front row, right in the middle of my speech, “Verbalized pause”, which would just throw me off and make me stammer over my words even more.
I knew from the time I was 12 that I wanted to be a writer, which meant I would never have to engage in formal public speaking, so I just kept right on with those verbalized pauses, making absolutely no effort to curtail them.
I got an A- in his class, and I’m pretty sure every point of that minus was the direct result of my total indifference to his “watch the verbalized pauses” admonitions.
I made it almost 20 years without ever regretting my decision to ignore him.
Until two weeks ago, when my new publisher announced that we’d be doing live Facebook videos as part of our mission to deliver highly-relevant news directly to the community.
It’s a great idea, and I absolutely love it. It jives perfectly with my personality and sincere adoration for our community and our readers.
But my verbalized pauses are a nightmare.
We even did a contest last week where I challenged viewers to count the number of times I say “um” to win tickets to the Fall Home and Garden Show. The correct answer, by the way, is 11 times in a five minute video.
I keep hoping that as I get more comfortable discussing the newspaper with an iPhone, some of that will abate, but in the meantime, all I can think of is Mr. Peters sitting in the front row of the classroom shouting, “Verbalized pauses, Miss Weber” every time the next word in my sentence takes a nano-second to form in my brain, and I fill the void with a sound.
So, Mr. Peters, if you’re reading this, you were, um, right about those verbalized pauses.
Claire Goodman is the managing editor for the Katy Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org