We are drowning in a tsunami of online communications. From Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to LinkedIn, and a host of other channels, all of us seem to be communicating with each other all the time. So much so that none of us has time to keep up with it all. Now, whenever we see a communication pattern like that, it’s time to ask, why are we so busy communicating so prodigiously? And what’s the alternative?
It’s an anxious time. As I’ve posted before, the echo chamber that is online communication creates a sense that the world is even more dangerous, chaotic, and frightening than it really is.
It’s also moving faster than ever before. And so we communicate more and more, anxious to be heard, racing faster and faster to keep up with all the other communicators and inadvertently creating more and more of a communications glut.
Of course, the harder we try and the more communication we send out, the smaller the return on any single effort. We’ve flooded the market. The Communications Law of Diminishing Returns applies with a vengeance.
What’s the alternative? For public speakers in particular it’s time to consider the creative use of silence. Your best moments in public speaking may be quiet ones. In silence there can be great power.
At the beginning of a speech, a pause can create interest and suspense. Begin your speech, then, not with a rush of words, but with a calm and confident pause. The fastest way to get an audience to quiet down and focus on the speaker is simply to look at them, while standing very still.
Use that moment (make it a 3-second count) to take stock of your audience, take a deep breath, and think of your first line. It’s also a great antidote to nerves at the beginning of a speech.
The next place for silence in a speech is after you’ve asked the audience a question, whether it’s a rhetorical one or not. Let the question sink in. You’ll want to jump in and answer your own question, because the silence will make you nervous, but fight the temptation. The audience needs time to process the question, figure out what the answer is, and decide it has the courage to respond. All of that takes several seconds, so be patient. Bite your tongue and wait. The result can be a genuine conversation – if you’ve asked a good question, that is.
And the third powerful place for silence in a speech is those moments in which you allow yourself to react emotionally to an important point in the speech. It can be a story you’re telling, in which your emotion plays a big part. It can be in response to a question or comment from an audience member. Either way, feeling emotion can take time, and you are always better off taking the time rather than trying to act by signaling the emotion. So, for example, if you’re angry at some injustice, feel the anger first. Don’t try to signal it by scowling or glaring at the audience. Feel it, and let your body take care of the facial expressions.
I’ve focused here on public speaking and opportunities for silence, but where else in our over-communicating world do you see chances for quiet?