One of my favorite shows on TV was Mythbusters. I love what they do and how they do it. They scientifically confirm or deny urban legends and myths in a fun way.
It got me thinking about some of the classic myths about presentations. Early in my speaking career, I received one of the worst bits of advice…
“When speaking in public, you need to ‘pause’ for dramatic effect.”
What the heck does that mean? Really. What the heck is that supposed to tell me? Did they mean pause for the sake of being dramatic? I’ve seen many speakers who thought they were being dramatic — and it was all too clear that they had an acting background. (I also have acting training in my background, but the audience shouldn’t notice it!)
We should not pause to make ourselves look good. That’s not that point. Unless you’re speaking to feed the ego…then, by all means, be more dramatic. Go for it, Shakespeare! (For give me if you do not know any better. This article is designed to enlighten you.)
Many speakers think that speaking is a monologue — meaning that a presentation is a one-way conversation. That’s more of a lecture. You speak, I listen. That may have seemed effective to your father as he was yelling at you to do your chores. But, while you were being ‘spoken to’ did you feel an uplifting sense of connection? I certainly didn’t. Did you want to hear more? Nope!
What were your thoughts then? LOL. OK, that was rhetorical. The truth is that the thoughts in the minds of the audience are what the presentation is all about.
When I studied the speeches of the World Champions who came before me, I realized that they “got it.” They completely understood that a powerful presentation was truly a dialogue. It was a conversation they had with the little voice in their head.
So, since it’s a conversation, the persuasive speaker needs to know what the audience is thinking — and when to shut up! We work so hard to get the audience to have thoughts, but it’s just as important to allow them time to think.
The true change occurs with the thoughts of the listener. We must strategically place our pauses in the moments that we want the audience to reflect. To think. For example, if you have my Fast-Start Program Coaching 101, you know that I teach people to use “you-focused” questions. As presenters, we must be aware of the answers to our questions. If we ask a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, a brief pause is appropriate. If we ask our audiences to reflect deeper into their memories, we must give them more time to go there and reflect. If we don’t, we are truly not there for the audience.
Many people are uncomfortable pausing. If you’re one of those people — congratulations, you’re human! My coach had me count three “heart beats” when I asked reflecting questions, just to give myself something to do while I wasn’t talking. As you build your pause ‘muscle,’ it will eventually get easier.
Don’t add a “dramatic” pause, instead add a ‘reflecting’ pause.
In my opinion… Add a dramatic pause: MYTH BUSTED!
What do you think? Please add your “pause” story on my blog. When did you realize how to actually use the pause properly? When was your myth busted?
As I wrote my Toastmasters International Speech Contest speech, I thought about those reflective pauses. For instance, I ask the audience, “When was the last time YOU took time out?” And, then I forced myself to count to 5 (about the same as 3 heartbeats). So, thank you for the affirmation that I’m doing it correctly!
What a great tip ……….. I like the way it adds life to the phrase: “It’s not what you say, or how you say it, IT’S what they see when you say it…..”
If see is essential to their thinking, then we’d better tell as story. Is it? …… Maybe so, In Darren’s blog, I could see the audience thinking and I could see the speaker shutting up.
When the audience was thinking, I saw someone stroking their long gray beard.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I, too, have a background in theater, but the “perfect” gesture and the dramatic pause are two bugaboos in the way of my enjoyment of someone’s speech. I hate hearing a “canned” presentation. Thanks, too, for the reminder of pausing for reflection & connection.
This is so true. The pause seems to be one of the most powerful things in a presentation. It allows the audience to reflect. I have also found that, if by chance, the audience is drifting, the pause brings their attention back to the speaker. I usually plant a “pause” in my presentation purposefully at times.
I am a huge proponent of pauses. Too often, speakers I have listened to go about 60 mph with the audience at 30-40 mph. Obviously, they are not focused on the audience but their own words. Silence can be extremely communicative, especially so when you wish the audience to reflect on your challenge to them.
Another great article Darren and I agree entirely.
I have three comments. Whatever you do move around the stage, stay rooted; gesture, don’t gesture; smile, don’t smile – don’t do it by accident – it’s got to have meaning and help the audience understand. The same with pausing. Pause because you want people to get your point, not only because the manual, the evaluator or anyone else said “you should pause more.”
Secondly, dialogue with an audience. You’re up on stage, but you’re still trying to “level with” an audience rather than “bigging yourself up.” I recommend people read Patsy Rodenburg’s excellent book, “Presence” in which she argues that true presence is being in a situation of equality with others – not parent/child (as in your “chores” example) but adult/adult.
Thirdly, “levelling with” your audience is related to managing your ego. The martial arts teach humility and control of the ego, as a gateway to learning and living a better life. It seems there are two applications here: (1) control your ego and you will learn to be a better speaker, because you are open to others and are “coachable” (2) control your ego, and in speaking, you will be more present with your audience.
Incidentally, control of the ego may be one of the reasons why self-deprecating humour works better than humour directed at putting someone else down – the one can be refreshingly direct about your own failings, and the other uses a position of power (being on stage) to undermine someone else.
What do you all think?
I love that show too, they always seem to be blowing things up though!
You are right about the use of the pause. It has to be audience-focused. It has to help the audience stay on your presentation journey and deepen their understanding of your message.
Remember in multi-cultural audiences you may need to pause longer so the audience has time to catch up. When simultaneous interpreters are being used, you sometimes get a ‘second’ wave of understanding; First for the audience members who understood you from the platform, and second for the audience who are relying on the interpretation.
From a Sunny Shanghai,
Warwick John Fahy
Author, The One Minute Presenter
Thank you for this newlsetter’s message as I have trouble with pauses and this clears it up! Great message.