It’s an old axiom that silence is golden. But that doesn’t hold true when you’re giving a business presentation, does it? The whole point is to communicate in words, not to be silent.
But silence, in the form of a perfectly timed pause, can be very powerful and effective when speaking to others (whether one-on-one or to large audiences).
I recently was part of an audience observing a coaching session for amateur speakers who are trying to break into the professional arena. The facilitator instructed each participant to give the opening line of his or her presentation, and then pause for five seconds and look around the audience from side to side. Sounds simple, right?
The facilitator gave this instruction to each speaker immediately as he or she took the stage, so there was no time to forget it. And yet, not a single one could do it. The facilitator would then interrupt, turn to the audience, and say, “What did he/she miss?” We eagerly responded, “He didn’t pause!”
It started to become hilarious, and those of us safe in the audience laughed harder each time it happened. Frequently, even after being interrupted and reminded, the speaker still couldn’t hold the pause for the required five seconds.
Why? Well, when it comes to giving presentations, silence might be golden but apparently it’s extremely uncomfortable. Just standing there, a roomful of people staring at you, waiting ... and you’re saying nothing? Ouch!
But those pauses, once you get used to them, can be very powerful. You might have worked diligently on your opening line, creating something that’s powerful and attention grabbing. Why not give your listeners the chance to absorb it and open for more, in the same way that a good appetizer gets your taste buds salivating for the main dish?
You might have just said something very powerful, or emotional. Why not give your listeners the chance to really feel their own response?
You might have just said something hilarious. Please, don’t talk over the laughter! Don’t just keep going ... pause, please.
Once you get used to the pause, you’ll appreciate its many benefits. For starters, it gives you the chance to take a breath, gauge the interest and focus of your audience, consider whether you need to slow down, add in, take out, or change direction. Pauses allow you to relax and gather your thoughts. If you are nervous or have stage fright, your breathing might become short and choppy, which will affect your speaking. Pause frequently, and take a breath. There’s no shame!
Strategic pauses show that you are relaxed, present, and comfortable in front of your audience. (Unless you spend them hyperventilating, of course.)
In part two, I’ll show you when to pause, and how to work them into your talk. It’s all a part of creating top notch, professional presentations that can go a long way to furthering your career, developing your personal brand, and becoming known as an expert.