One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five.
What if I told you that the five seconds of silence you just counted off is twice as impactful as any words you could say in a speech? Ironically, when it comes to speaking, your most effective tool is silence.
Yes, you read that right . . . silence! Pausing during your presentation has many positive effects, the most important being the pause’s ability to elevate your presentation from a boring monologue to an interesting dialogue. In other words, the pause is the secret ingredient that makes your presentation feel like a conversation.
Inexplicably, nervous speakers tend to present as if there should be absolutely no silence throughout their entire speech. You’ve heard them; they sound like they just want to get it over with. They talk like the guy with the great voice at the end of television and radio commercials who reads all the legal mumbo jumbo a mile a minute. Some speakers have a faulty clock in their heads that causes the fast talking and shallow breathing. Nervousness has their internal clock moving 10 times faster than normal, with every second feeling like a minute and every minute feeling like an eternity. In these situations, the pause acts like a natural pressure release valve. It releases your nervous energy while giving your audience time and space to have a conversation with you in their heads.
When I’m an audience member, I often wish I had a remote to pause or rewind the speaker when I need an extra second to fully get their point or need to hear something again to reinforce that point. Since that remote control doesn’t exist, you have to be sensitive to your audience’s needs and pause and repeat yourself frequently. The good news is, with time and practice, slowing down your internal clock becomes a part of your procedural memory.
Master-level actors, comedians and speakers are extremely comfortable with silence and frequently use pauses in their talks. Here are 5 ways the masters use the pause.
1. Grab audience attention
Instead of starting your speech with meaningless small talk like “Hi, I’m Mat. Thank you for inviting me blah blah blah . . .”, I recommend that you start EVERY talk with five seconds of silence, just like we started this blog. Words can’t compete with silence!
2. Conjure your next thought
When you’re in the midst of presenting and the warning lights in your head start flashing to indicate you’ve lost your next thought, pause and take a deep breath. Doing the opposite of what you would typically do (have a meltdown) will bring the thought right back to the surface.
3. Mental digestion
Remember, your audience is most likely hearing your content for the first time. Be intellectually polite and pause for a few seconds after important points so they can mentally digest your ideas.
*Numbers 2 and 3 can happen simultaneously.
In cases when a natural transition between two points does not emerge, 10 seconds of silence will usually do the trick. Also, you should physically move to a different location on stage or in the room to visually reinforce the transition.
The pause can be an exclamation point or it can be used to create a cliff hanger. For example, this blog is getting way too long, so I better…
Dez Thornton is a Communications Coach who helps you say the right words in the right way when they matter most! For more information, see www.dezthornton.com.