I recently delivered a two-day Presenting with IMPACT course for a group of highly-talented professionals, all of whom came from different countries and had different job functions. Their levels of English varied slightly, as did their age, work experience and confidence. The one thing this highly diverse group did have in common was their tendency to talk too much during their presentations. Why is that a problem you ask? Aren’t we supposed to talk when presenting…isn’t that the point? Of course it is, but there is a time when silence, or a nicely timed pause, works in your favor as the presenter. We spent a lot of time working on the usage of pauses and silence in their presentations with great results. So, I’d like to share with you 6 practical ways that silence can improve your presentations:
It slows you down
Many people struggle with speaking too quickly when they are presenting. This can be due to nerves, having a lot to cover in a short period of time, etc. Building planned pauses into your presentation allows you to slow things down, collect yourself and focus on enunciating your message to the audience.
It helps your audience absorb and retain your message
Using a strategic pause after stating your walk away message can allow it to better ‘sink in.’ I’d suggest doing this more than one time throughout your presentation at it will reinforce what you want the audience to do/think/feel after listening to your presentation.
It helps non-native speakers ‘catch up’
Many of our clients present in their second language, English, to an audience who are receiving the message in their second or third language. Regardless of how talented someone may be in a second or third language, they still need more time to process things compared to their native language. Using pauses can give the audience ‘space to breath’ and make sure they fully comprehend what you are saying.
“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
It shows willingness to listen and take questions
When a speaker is ‘speed-talking’ through their points, an audience can feel that things are rushed and there is no time for questions. Fielding and asking questions in a presentation can work in the speaker’s favor if handled correctly. It involves the audience and gives the presenter a chance to reinforce their walk away message in a context that matters to the audience.
It emphasizes important points
Silence is an effective tool to emphasize important points, build positive suspense and highlight things that need to be clarified. Mark Twain once said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
It shows confidence, control and poise
Most of us get nervous and experience stress when speaking in public. The important thing is not show it when presenting if possible. Using pauses and silence throughout your presentation will give you the breaks you need to collect yourself and refocus if need be.
Try it for yourself…
Using pauses and silence when speaking doesn’t come natural for a lot of people. It takes practice and being open to feedback from colleagues or friends. One quick and easy activity to practice using pauses is as follows:
- Write down 2 sentences on what you will do after work today. For example: I will finish work at 6pm and head to the supermarket. After shopping, I will go home and cook dinner for my family.
- Read the 2 sentences out loud as you normally would.
- Now, read the 2 sentences again out loud, but this time with a 3 second pause in between them. (count to 3 in your head between the sentences)
It sounds like a simple exercise, but many people have a hard time waiting the full three seconds to start the second sentence. Try this with a colleague at work over lunch. Ask each other how it sounds and how you feel. Try it a few more times and then try using it at least once the next time you speak in front of people.
We have all heard the phrase ‘Silence is golden’. Whether you agree with this or not, try to use a little bit of it in your next presentation. I think you will be pleased with the results, and your audience will be too.