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The Sound of Silence ... Use Pauses for Powerful Presentations
by Chris King

When we are presenting, and especially when we are new to speaking in front of audiences, we often speed ahead — afraid of leaving blank spaces. Successful sales people know the power of silence. As presenters, if we learn to use silence and pauses to our advantage, we will not only reach our listeners more effectively, they will also understand and remember our messages more readily.

Begin with silence. It takes “guts” to stand in front of an audience after being introduced without saying something immediately, but this can prove to be one of the strongest ways to get their attention and to create rapport. Lee Glickstein, a well known speaking coach and speaker from Mill Valley, California, suggests that we start our presentations by standing quietly, making eye contact with audience members, letting them make contact with us, and then once everyone is comfortable and waiting with anticipation, start with a dynamic story. You will be amazed at the level of attention this produces.

Pause to develop relationship between you and your listeners. During a pause, the speaker is more like a listener. This is a time when both are listening and the speaker can take note of the audience’s quality of listening. We might realize that as the presenter we need to change course and tell a story or possibly ask for questions. If, however, we don’t take a moment to evaluate reactions and interest, we might just forge ahead without maintaining the audience’s attention.

Pause with purpose. There are many times throughout a presentation a pause can add emphasis and/or give the listener a chance to ponder, or even laugh. When we have just made an important point, a startling or unusual statement, or a call for action, participants need a moment to take notes, think about what we just said, or catch up. Even though we can hear words faster than anyone can speak, we do need time to think about what was said and then form our own ideas. If, as presenters, we give participants enough time, they will be much more likely to buy into what we are presenting than if we just keep on moving fast forward with the information that is so familiar to us. I have also heard speakers who make a humorous statement and then don’t let the audience members have time to “get it” and laugh. People need time to laugh. And laughter is important because it bonds the audience and speaker.

Transition with pauses. As a speaker with content, you have many different points to make. But if you jump too quickly from one point to another, you will leave your listeners behind or confused. When this happens, they will oftentimes “tune out” and you have lost them for the rest of your presentation. A well-placed pause will help you and them prepare for the next portion of your presentation. I suggest picking transitional sentences as carefully as your openings and closings, and then taking a moment of silence for the ideas in these sentences to take hold before you launch into the new point.

Pause for a show of confidence. The confident pause is an earmark of the accomplished speaker. The courage to stop the flow of words is an act of trust in the power of your presence, your nonverbal communication, and your relationship to your listeners.

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