Here's a great public speaking tip: One of your best public speaking tools isn't about vocal production at all—it's silence. (Discover all of the essential vocal tools of public speaking from my free cheat sheet, "5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics.")
Used well, silence can have the power of a thunderclap. It allows dramatic tension to build, like a thunder cloud before that storm breaks. It creates anticipation. It gives audiences time to process what you just said. It lends a shape to your speech it wouldn't have otherwise.
And it does a few other things as well.
Yet too often, this vital speaking tool isn't understood or employed. And more: a speaker's neglect of silence can be a dead giveaway that he or she is terrified of the public speaking situation. Let's look at three advantages you'll gain by using this technique that actors and accomplished presenters use frequently and well.
- Silence allows your audience to absorb critical information. When you say something important, your listeners must be given a pause to process what you've just told them. If they're to retain this critical part of your message, they need to "fix" it in their consciousness. Public speaking takes place in real time. If you hurry past important information, it will be lost in your audience's need to simply keep up with your speaking pace. Silence in the form of a strategic pause is absolutely required at these times.
- Silence is necessary at each of your transitions. Every speech needs shape, though too few presentations have one. Audiences need to take a "mental breath" at regular intervals during your talk, and that means every few minutes. Think of it as hitting the refresh button. A natural place for this to occur is when you transition between main points. Use a pause (coupled with some change in your voice) to give listeners a heads-up that something new and worth listening to is coming up. Their attention will be renewed.
- Silence demonstrates confidence. Audiences can usually tell if you're a nervous or confident speaker. Many nonverbal communication signs are give-aways, and among them is when you talk nonstop, too quickly, without a single interval of silence. On the other hand, if you use silence in the ways discussed above, you'll demonstrate that you are in control. After all, the presentation is yours to deliver at the pace you want to deliver it. Doing so is a tip-off that you're a confident and skilled speaker.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Here's an important paradox: silence is one of your best vocal tools.
- Silence can add anticipation and drama to your speeches.
- Audiences can absorb information better if you give them time to do so.
- For effective transitions, alert audiences of a new point by pausing.
- Pace your presentation effectively using silence, and you'll appear confident.