Silence is Golden

8 Oct

“There can be an art in the use of a pause. It does not have to be filled with a you know. This phrase, like so many others, betrays a mind whose thoughts are often so disorganized as to be unutterable—a mind in neutral gear coupled to a tongue stuck in overdrive.”- Robert Byrd, Senator- West Virginia

Sometimes what you don’t say can be more important than what you do. Effective speakers know how valuable the pause is, and instead of littering their presentation with like, uh, umm, and you knows, they prioritize their pauses as much they do their scripts.  Pauses can be effective because they:

  1. Revive the Audience. If used correctly, a pause in a speech can captivate an otherwise disengaged audience.  Even if the speaker has already lost the listeners in a long stretch of words, a pause can instantly perk up the eyes and ears of the audience because they aren’t expecting it.  Any point made after a pause will now resonate far more than one made in the flow of conversation.
  2. Slow the Pace. If your presentation is moving too quickly, the audience is far more likely to miss something or not understand something completely. Listeners will only truly understand your message if you give them time to understand it during the delivery.
  3. Reduce the Filler. A lot of verbal clutter can be distracting. Even if it’s just your nerves showing, connecting your thoughts with uhs and wells will make you seem unprepared. Using pauses to connect your sentences and collect your thoughts will make you seem more comfortable and less memorized. Maintaining eye contact during a confident pause is way more effective than looking up and saying um when trying to collect your thoughts.

Unfortunately, the confidence to stand silent in front of a crowd can be elusive. Here are a few tips to help you both before and during the presentation:

  1. Plan Accordingly. If you know that there are lines in your presentation that you want to stick, make sure you remember to pause beforehand! These pauses are sometimes called “pregnant pauses” because the pause is about to give birth to a big idea. Plan ahead, and enhance your main points with a confident silence.
  2. Develop a System. If you are rehearsing your presentation off of a written script, or even a written outline, come up with a notation system to help you practice your delivery. If you are musically inclined, try using musical notation, complete with rests, fermatas (holds), accents, dynamic markings, and various tempo markings. Anything you can write on your paper to enhance your delivery practice can be helpful.
  3. Breathe After Phrases. Short, staggered breathing can make you sound less confident. If you cannot control your breathing, you will not be able to control your speech patterns. Sentences can become jumbled and the ends of your phrases may get cut off. Not only do you get more air and energy for your phrases, but you sound more organized if your phrases are effectively placed at the end of your ideas.  

Staying silent when everyone in the room is expecting you to speak can be one of the hardest things to pull off. It can also be one of the most effective things. Pausing between ideas can slow the pace of the presentation, reviving the audience, getting their full attention, or just giving them a chance to let the message sink in. It is also a great way to sound organized without any verbal clutter. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but with an adequate preparation system and good breathing awareness, a confident presentation may be closer than you think.

by Dylan French



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