speaking infront

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What’s the most powerful part of a presentation?

That’s a question I often ask participants on my public speaking courses.
“The delivery”, “the content”, “getting people to take action”, “relaxed presenters” are some of the answers that I get. They are great answers and they are key parts of a presentation. But there is not much point doing a presentation unless the audience changes in some way.
And in order for them to change – they need to think about what it means to them and why they should change.

So the answer is simple, it’s the audience thinking process.
We need to; 1) invite audiences to think about what we are sayingAND2) give them time to think about it.
I’m going to concentrate on the second point – the time to think, aka the pause….

Often we don’t give audiences silence. Anxious speakers often rush their presentations to get them finished so they can sit down quickly. The presenter’s belief is “as long as I say it, (never mind if it’s rushed) – the audience will get it”.  If that is the case, then successful communication hasn’t happened even if delivery has.

So we need to pause.

But the trouble is with pausing is that if you are not used to standing in silence, they feel like moments of terror. A pause filled with panic. “My pauses are huge and show the audience that I’m lost for words” has been said in my groups. If we are anxious speakers then silence seems to have only downsides.

And yet when we write, we know to look after the reader. We add spaces, commas, sentences, paragraphs, sub headings to help the reader understand our thoughts.
Otherwise it would look like this.. “Weaddspacescommassentencesparagraphssub headingstohelpthereaderunderstandourthoughts .” No use to the reader and no use to the audience if you are doing something similar when you speak.

So at the very least a pause helps your audience to think

But the pause does far more that.
The pause also gives you, the presenter time to think. If you can learn to pause and remain calm when you do, you can get your brain back. So if you lose your way a pause can help you get back on track or need time to think about the right way to answer to a question. They also give you time breathe or to drink some water. And if you are relaxed about pausing you are far less likely to use filler words such as “Ums” and “ok” etc.

So a pause can help you to think and look after yourself.

But the pause does far more than that.
It’s actually a thing of beauty for presenters. A pause helps you to connect with the audience. At one level it shows the audience that you are confident enough to take your space. But far more importantly, a powerful speaker will use the silence at the beginning to connect with the audience. And not just the audience as a whole I mean with individuals in the audience. By noticing individualsyou are creating a sense of community, a sense of belonging.
“When called to the pulpit Martin Luther King would often stand and wait— “sometimes ten seconds or more—but it would be “a very active kind of waiting,” in which he would look out over the congregation, “establishing his identity to them, and theirs to him “
(from Peter Manseau’s blog)

So a pause can be about audience connection.

But the pause does far more than that.
It also says that something important is about to happen. It helps the speaker emphasise something and creates a change in pace.
At the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, President Obama’s eulogy had a 13 second pause before he broke into singing “Amazing Grace”. It’s already a famous speech with avery famous pause! I think that particular pause had something of a higher purpose to it – a spiritual element

So it seems the pause has power beyond measure.
Well, that might be an exaggeration but it’s certainly worth exploring and getting friendly with a bit of silence. And if you can do, that your presentations will be far more effective.


13 seconds to go......






wait for it







hang on a bit





Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound....