Ibrahim J. Mariwa, then a call centre worker, had atrocious ratings, and he had them for a long while. He was desperate to improve, so he asked his supervisor for his past call recordings. He listened to his first recording, cringed, and thought: I don’t want to listen to this. He listened to the second recording: It’s bad. “My voice sounds awful; I can’t even understand what I’m saying,” Ibrahim commented to himself. Third, fourth: “I can’t bear to listen to this.” He sounded like many call hotlines when you call in to ask for help,
In a world inundated with information and noise, there’s an undervalued commodity that can revolutionise the way we communicate, whether it’s in presentations, one-on-one conversations, or even customer service interactions. This powerful tool is the art of spacing, the judicious use of pauses, rhythm, and pace in speech. Often overlooked, it is a silent force that can transform the dynamics of communication, and one needn’t look further than the inspiring journey of Ibrahim to witness its potential.
Ibrahim, a call centre agent, found himself at the brunt of frustration, both from customers and within himself. His monotonous script, delivered at breakneck speed, was more of a tongue-twister than a courteous greeting. His lack of spacing – the rushing through words without pause or clarity – rendered his communication ineffective. This situation mirrors many of our own experiences, whether during presentations, public speaking events, or everyday conversations, where we rush through our narratives, hoping speed might conceal our insecurities. More often than not, it backfires.
Ibrahim didn’t realise that this strategy for speed was backfiring. Many customers would ask: Can you say your name again? Followed by: Can you spell your name for me? Over and over, he would have to spell it: not just i-b-r-a-h- i-m, but In-di-a! Bra-vo! Ro-me-o! Al-pha! Customers wanted to be sure they got it right when they complained.
At the end of each day, constantly repeating and spelling out his name, he was fatigued. He knew he had to do things differently.
Reclining on his chair, with his feet up, Ibrahim slowed down while making his first words melodious: Gooooood morning!… Welcome to…Organisation X!…My name is—IB-ra-hiiiim!…How may I assist you? His customers replied: Wah…so enthusiastic you are!
This was the turning point in Ibrahim’s story, and it gives us a valuable lesson. He discovered that slowing down his speech, allowing each word its time and space could dramatically alter his interactions. When he consciously decided to pronounce his name clearly and slowly – “IB-ra-hiiiiim!” – his customers responded positively, marking a radical shift in his work life. This simple act of spacing out his words imbued them with a unique energy, evoking emotions and connections that his rushed speech could never achieve.
The notion of spacing extends beyond the pauses between words; it permeates the rhythm of speech. The deliberate slowing down invites listeners to engage, absorb, and comprehend the message better. Spacing, therefore, becomes an essential tool in creating a bridge between the speaker and the listener, a shared space where connection and understanding flourish.
In presentations or public speaking, effective use of spacing can heighten audience engagement. Rapid, continuous speech can often leave audiences disengaged and overwhelmed, whereas controlled pacing and deliberate pauses provide listeners time to process the information, engage with the material, and even anticipate what’s coming next. This level of engagement fosters an interactive experience rather than a one-sided discourse, enhancing the overall impact of the communication.
There is also the subtle but critical element of controlling the narrative. By spacing out his words, Ibrahim was able to emphasise his name, creating a distinct impression on his customers. Similarly, in our conversations or presentations, we can use spacing to underscore key points or to create dramatic effect, allowing our message to resonate powerfully with our audience.
Some days later, Ibrahim, in his excitement, stands. Like a giant in call-centre-land towering above all his colleagues, he is using his hands to describe and emphasise; his voice rings out; words begin to flow like a fountain; his customers start to shower praise. He wasn’t aware you’d get 20 ringgit when a customer wrote in with praise. In one month, he made the equivalent of his salary in compliments money.
As Ibrahim’s story unfolded, we see him embracing another aspect of spacing – physical space. He began to stand while taking calls, incorporating body language and hand gestures to supplement his verbal communication. This change added depth to his interactions, making them dynamic and engaging. It also underlines an important aspect of effective communication: spacing is not confined to our speech; it also applies to our physical presence and body language.
When we recognise and incorporate the power of spacing in our communication, we bring a sense of harmony and rhythm to our interactions. The eloquence of silence, the effectiveness of pauses, and the impact of deliberate pacing, when combined, create an engaging, captivating dialogue that can significantly enhance our professional and personal lives.
The next time you step on stage for a presentation, engage in a conversation, or answer a customer service call, take a moment to slow down. Let silence speak between your words. Embrace the art of spacing. Create a symphony of words and silences that can captivate, engage, and inspire your audience. Like Ibrahim, you might find that this simple yet powerful tool cannot only improve your communication skills but also bring about profound changes in your life.
Moreover, mastering the art of spacing can significantly reduce your stress and anxiety. This is especially crucial in high-pressure environments like public speaking or customer service, where maintaining composure can be challenging. By pacing your speech, taking deliberate pauses, and regulating your breathing, you can control your nervousness, improve clarity, and project confidence.
This was clearly evident in Ibrahim’s experience. After adapting his speech and incorporating spacing, his work became more enjoyable, less exhausting, and he was more connected with his customers. His performance scores skyrocketed, and customers praised his new approach, which led to financial rewards and promotions. More importantly, he was able to experience joy and satisfaction in his work.
Additionally, the conscious use of spacing has the potential to make communication more inclusive. By slowing down, we allow more time for individuals for whom the language may be secondary or who might need extra time to process the information. In our diverse, globalized world, this sensitivity is crucial for effective communication.
Furthermore, as Ibrahim’s story highlighted, the art of spacing is not a static skill. It is an evolving practice, something that can be continually refined and expanded. Initially, Ibrahim started by merely spacing his words. Eventually, he incorporated standing, using gestures, and engaging customers more dynamically. His evolution underscores the vital fact that learning to use spacing effectively is a journey, not a destination.
In summary, the art of spacing is a subtle yet immensely powerful aspect of effective communication. It is a tool that can transform mundane monologues into engaging dialogues, stressed presentations into effective communication, and frustrated customers into satisfied ones. By giving each word its due space and time, embracing the eloquence of silence, and by harnessing the power of rhythm, we can dramatically improve our communication skills.
So, the next time you pick up a phone, step onto a stage, or engage in a conversation, remember the tale of Ibrahim. Breathe, slow down, and let your words, punctuated by meaningful pauses, weave a spell that captivates your listeners. Adopt the art of spacing – your listeners, your message, and you yourself will be richer for it.
At the next review, his supervisor played back a recording of Ibrahim’s interaction with a customer. Ibrahim was struck: he sounded good! He also realised there wasn’t a single filler word. His scoresheet usually faces up so that the red marks could jeer at him. This time, it lay face down. The agent handed the sheet to him. “I don’t know if this is a first in this call centre, but in all my years of call monitoring, I’ve never seen it or given it.”
Turning it over, Ibrahim saw: 100. A perfect score.
Ibrahim J. Mariwa is People Potential’s Director of Training Quality for Delivery. Today, Ibrahim is an accomplished trainer and presentations specialist with expertise in executive coaching and high-stakes presentations. He’s worked with many C-Suites and technical experts, helping them enhance their impact and executive presence. He mainly works with senior leaders in Executive Presentations Coaching (EPC) to raise their impact and executive presence and he delivers a range of programs to senior managers such as The Case Maker™ (for building convincing business proposals) and Presentations Alive!™ (for impactful presentations and delivery). Ibrahim’s international background and multicultural experience inform his approach to clients and learners. In addition to his professional achievements, he actively contributes to community efforts, including supporting Kuala Lumpur’s urban homeless and conducting workshops for NGOs. Participants in Ibrahim’s programmes praise his engaging teaching style, relevant examples, and detailed feedback, often choosing to continue learning beyond the scheduled sessions.
This article was adapted from the soon-to-be-released e-book ‘What is there to do for four hours? – Inside an Executive Presentations Coaching session with Ibrahim J. Mariwa’ by Marianne Vincent, People Potential’s Director of Training Quality.