The word oratory speaks for itself. And the expression is well worth it, since everything related to the art of expressing oneself in public places the emphasis on eloquence and the ability to articulate phrases, messages and concepts with the voice, in order to seduce the public.
However, in the everyday use of speech, we are not a machine saying words without stopping. Every day we all use a very powerful tool: silence.
The space of silences is what allows conversations to be understood and not be a succession of verbiage. This aspect is also what distinguishes public speaking experts from all the others. Your concepts and ideas can be very good; however, when you are overwhelming an audience by parroting without even giving them a break, you lose points there.
When I started my career at 8 years old (yes, I was very young and since then I have not stopped) at the radio station in my town, you could not leave spaces for silence in the transmission.
Over the years this has changed, and, in fact, there are many, many professionals on the radio who use pauses as the greatest sign of eloquence that we can find.
In music silence speaks as much as the notes of the score to be played; and the sections without sound are marked. Without silence there would be no music. Just remember for a moment the introduction to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with its characteristic chords: that dramatic tension would not exist if it were sound linked without pauses.
What the silence says
When you are in front of the auditorium in any format, face-to-face or virtual, even if it is only audio and they do not see you, it is important to prepare your presentation and rehearse it several times, adding significant pauses that speak for themselves. In this way you will achieve:
- Emphasize the concept you just spoke
- You will generate expectation for what follows in your presentation
- You’ll give the public brain a break
- You will allow the ideas you transmit to be better incorporated
- You will grab attention immediately
- You will rest for a short time to regain strength and continue
- You will make your message more memorable
- You will highlight key concepts with micro-silences just before pronouncing the main idea that you want to highlight.
As we can see, silence has multiple advantages, and in addition, it is the tool that nurtures another superpower of good speakers: listening.
5 ways to practice silence in public speaking
I know that making notable silences and pauses within a presentation can scare more than one person, especially those used to verbiage on and off stage.
Here I explain five ways to practice the use of silence in talks, conferences, speeches, classes and any other time:
1 – Determine in advance when you will be silent
As you design the presentation, you need to have a very specific timing of the rhythm it will have. The suggestion is that you first structure it into a simple scheme, such as a good beginning, the knot, and a glorious ending.
Then divide those sections, especially the middle and closing, into subsections. And within them, it stipulates what will be the moments of high impact. Just before or after those peaks of your speaking, you can take pauses of 5, 10, 15, 20 or more seconds. Whatever you feel goes with the moment.
2 – The brain disperses after 30 seconds of hearing words in a row
Neuroscience studies have concluded that after half a minute of listening to someone speak, the brain tends to scatter. This diversion of attention can be lethal in front of the public.
For this, you can use brief pauses within the sentences you pronounce, not necessarily every 30 seconds, although you do know that you will have to move on stage, change position, and micro moments without oral expression when you project a new image on the screen; that is to say, give breaths.
3 – Let people reflect
When you share a lot of information, and even if you are taking the presentation from less to more, in a “crescendo”, it is necessary that you pause to give space for reflection and internalization of the information.
Other techniques to combine are asking rhetorical questions -which are generally answered with yes or no, they are closed questions-, speaking more slowly at certain moments and varying your tones of voice and nuances, for example.
4 – Listen to what the silence expresses
Starting with you, observe yourself during the silences: Do they bother you? Is your heart racing? Do you think that you should put words at all times?
Then, notice what you feel from the audience during the moments without speaking: Do they move? Are there people who take notes? Breaths of relief in the face of the previous cataract of words?
Being a speaker is not just standing in front and speaking: it is also knowing how to read and calibrate the audience permanently, and the silences caused are one of those key moments that will give you the notion of what the tuning of your audience is at that moment.
5 – Let your message be understood
As I have mentioned, silence emphasizes ideas and helps to enhance the essence of what you want people to remember; And for this it is important that you recognize your emotional state before, during and after doing them in front of the public.
Pausing is essential for people to incorporate your content, to learn and to re-signify it inside.
It is necessary that you make friends with “not saying anything” and that you enjoy it serenely without having to activate your controlling mind at that moment.
Thinking “Do they think I have forgotten what follows?”, “What are they assuming?” or things like that in your head will not help you relax and rest in silence. Simply, let yourself be, and with your intuition and your mastery of the subject, choose the appropriate moment to continue and recover your story, now nurtured by silences of great value.
So, I invite you to “If what you are going to say is not more beautiful than silence, don’t say it”, as this famous Arabic proverb indicates. Better be quiet.