The speaker thanked the MC for the introduction and launched into her presentation. We were still thinking of our lunchtime conversations, shuffling papers, checking cell phones and didn’t pay attention to the introduction or to the speaker’s first few sentences. She seemed unaware of that as she continued.
Only in the middle of her third sentence did most of us in the audience begin listening. Those crucial opening sentences were therefore lost. One can only imagine how much more compelling her presentation would have been had she captured our attention at the very start.
As an audience, we are often on automatic listening mode and need something to help us change gears. For most of us, our ears and brains actually welcome the signals that help us transition. We expect words, so when we get the unexpected, we sit up and notice.
In the theater, as the lights are dimmed, the audience collectively understands that moment to cease talking and focus on the stage. In a meeting, a lack of words can have the same effect.
So, give the audience the unexpected… and … STOP … before starting.
A pause, as you gather your audience, as well as your energy, is more powerful than a flood of speech at the beginning of a presentation. In those first moments your listener wants to connect with you. So it’s the perfect time to make that personal connection, establish eye contact, and help your listener engage with you. It does not have to be a long pause, but should be long enough to recognize the silence.
Pauses during a presentation are also remarkably powerful.
As the master of words, Mark Twain, wrote, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
After making that significant statement, how often do we rush onto our next thought rather than let it sink in? Our audience generally needs the time to process new concepts. Give it to them.
A well-timed pause, particularly after sharing complex details, gives our listeners the opportunity to digest information. A pause after a question, even if the question is rhetorical, provides the opportunity to perhaps formulate an answer.
A pause also works well at the end of a presentation, before gathering materials to leave the podium. This brief moment can send a strong signal of the speaker’s level of comfort or discomfort. Sometimes speech for the sake of filling the silence after a presentation reduces the impact of what has just been shared. Use that time for your audience to stay with you one moment more.
So, throughout your presentation – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end — be aware of the power of silence. Don’t be afraid to milk your pauses –- let them add to the impact you want to make. It’s not in the volume, but in the spaces in between, that we often leave the strongest impression.
Most of us communicate primarily with words, but let’s not forget what Mark Twain called, “that eloquent silence.”
Written by communication skills consultant, Lauren Garlick. For more information, visit www.laurengarlick.com.