How would you like….?

download“How would you like your hair cut?” a talkative barber asked a client.  “In silence”, the man replied!  This is one of the oldest recorded jokes, attributed to Roman times.

Most people shy away from silence as it is awkward and scary.  We often see silence as a vacuum that needs to be filled, quickly and furiously.  Yet silence can also be powerful, if used well.

Consider the power of a well-timed pause – especially when you are presenting.  It takes practise to get the timing right (try counting slowly to three in your head).  This will feel like eternity, but gives your messages the space they deserve.

When you finish narrating a story, you will usually be greeted by complete silence instead of rapturous applause.  The silence does not mean your story has not worked; quite the opposite.  The silence is your audience thinking about what you have said.

Quite often you have barely finished speaking in most other contexts when people rush in with what they want to say.  As such, the novelty of being greeted by silence at the end of a story is so unusual that it can unnerve even seasoned presenters.  I prep clients by saying “Bask in the silence!”

Research (in a paper aptly titled ‘Why Silence is golden’) has studied the effects of silence in consumer advertising and found that a silent segment in a television commercial increased attention and recall.  The researchers recommend that advertisers should selectively pause for a cause.

So, how are you going to pause for cause?  Please share – I love hearing from you.

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  • Sundar Rajamanickam

    I have paused to diffuse a tense / hostile situation. This is something new for me … but sure makes sense

  • Lars

    Silence can be great as an “ear-opener” !

    Well placed it can provide the audience with a just long enough moment of silence, forcing them to move from their own thoughts about what you just said … to focus on what you actually are about to say. It’s about breaking the flow … causing a bump … a hick-up … triggering curiosity … and when you start talking again, there’s a great opening for placing a “hook” !

    An example can be to start the whole presentation with a short silence … by taking the stand, facing the audience, make sure they are all looking at you, taking a deep breath, opening your mouth and then just stand there for a 5 seconds … with mouth slightly open and looking over the audience. It causes the audience to think that you are hesitating, maybe being nervous, maybe are loosing it and are about to make a mistake. If the latter, a lot of them think; “I want to se this …”. The curiosity created will keep them on their toes … and their ears are wide open for your opening words; your “strong one-liner” that the audience will remember right through your speech.

    • Yamini Naidu

      Hi Lars
      Many thanks for your insight – I love the idea of starting with silence, powerful and grounding. But also need to have the courage to do that – to hold the silence, but well worth the rewards.

  • Justine

    Another fabulous, enlightening post Yamini! I agree silence, and its associated ‘thinking time’, is a very powerful tool to use in sessions, meetings and conversations. In this information overload and constantly distracted existence we need to find the space inbetween.

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