Perhaps the most difficult thing for speaker to learn is knowing when and where to stop speaking.
When you pause, you establish the pace from the beginning of your talk. You let the audience know that the information is going to be coming at them at a pace that they can handle. You let them know right up front that you will be delivering your story in the form of a newspaper – not a textbook.
So to put the process all together, speaking properly is about is finding one person, giving one thought, and then taking one pause. One pause long enough for them to ingest the last thing you said, reference it and catalog it, before you ask them to open up to new information.
When you engage these behaviors, you will find that your relationship with the audience changes in many ways. Not only does the group dynamic change, but also the types of feedback you get from the group, because in many cases, you’ll find people in the audience who’ve been through lifetimes of presentations and never felt engaged at that same level.
When you master Lock, Talk, & (especially) Pause, what you find is that people actually come up to you at the end of the meeting say things like, “You know, Jane, I’ve heard this information before, but nobody’s ever explained it in quite the same way. Somehow, you made it all understandable”. Or, “Somehow, I felt that you really cared about my understanding what you had to say. This was a great presentation”. That “somehow” was your giving them the ability to actually hear what you said.
The positive feedback is a good thing, too, because the more of it you get, the more it will reinforce your desire to hone The Skills every time you speak. And you will get a little bit better every time you do. In fact, speaking well is a lifelong process – but one that just keeps on getting better as long as you do it.
Mark Twain gets a lot of quotes attributed to him that he never said, but one of the things he did say was:
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause”.
Way back then, Mark Twain knew good old Rule #3, that people only START listening when you STOP talking.
Master of the Pause
When we ask our on-site participants to name the person they consider to be the most effective speaker in public life today, Bill Clinton is the name that most often rises to the top. People think of Bill Clinton, regardless of his politics (which we won’t discuss here) as a great public speaker. And the reality is Bill Clinton was some poor kid from Arkansas who made it to a pretty high office because one thing he figured out how to do is speak.
Bill Clinton is thought of as a great speaker for good reason. Bill Clinton is the Master of the Pause. There’s no speaker today who knows more about how to get a message across by saying a few words and then pausing to let it sink in. In fact, Bill Clinton probably says fewer words between pauses than any other politician. [Editor's note: Barack Obama is fast on his heals, but still has a ways to go before he can steal the mantle. We suspect history will weigh in on this in time.]
When you listen to Clinton speak, you find yourself not just hearing what he just said, but also waiting in anticipation for his next words. And that is the second reason that the pause is so vital. When you don’t give the audience frequent breaks in the stream of your words, foremost on their minds is when you are going to stop talking so their brains can have a rest.
But when you fill your stream of thoughts with opportunities for them to rest between each one, you will find your audience actually waiting to hear your next words. They are primed to listen, so the impact of the words when they do arrive is much, much greater.
Bill Clinton learned The Skills, and learned how to be a master, by listening to his hero in life – John F. Kennedy. Coming up, you will hear for yourself how each of these masters deliver their words not to hear themselves speak, but with their audience’s ability to hear and comprehend foremost in mind.
Bill Clinton is an effective speaker because he gives everyone in the audience all the time each needs to absorb what he said before he asks them to pick up on the next thing he’s going to say. He gives them the time to absorb it, process it, and form a clear picture of the words before he asks them to take in new information.
Bill Clinton, and Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King and just about anybody that has ever really moved you by their style of speaking all know one thing: the most effective thing you can do when you speak is to NOT.
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.