Pause: Create a Powerful Presence Through Silence

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In a non-stop world, we have become non-stop speakers.  For this reason alone, silence is a powerful tool.  Silence allows you to breathe, and give your audience time to breathe as well.  In our crazy world, silence is not easy to find, and it’s just not that easy to use either.  Speakers become concerned that if they pause someone will jump in and take over the conversation. Even so, silence is important for being understood as well a for creating poise and the air of confidence in a speaker. Below are some recommendations for using silence to create a more powerful presence.

Jump-start your presentation with silence.

  • Breathe before you go on.  If you practice yoga, do a round of complete breaths while you are waiting backstage.  Center your thoughts, and focus on your intention. Breathe deeply as you walk on stage or up to the podium.
  • Breathe deeply before you speak your first words; once you are the focus of attention, look around and breathe deeply and slowly.  Take in the energy of the room and prepare just as if you were a diver getting ready to jump into the water.
  • Breathe into your first words. Use your breath.  The voice needs air to work effectively and efficiently.  Move the air into your first sentence and listen to your voice speak out with power and clarity.

Give the audience time to take it in.

  • Shape your message with pauses. When you practice, build pauses into your presentation.  Practice more silence between ideas, or parts of the talk.
  • Finish your thoughts to enable understanding.  Even familiar topics are fresh when told from a new perspective.  Make a definitive statement and let it ring in your listeners’ ears.  Resist the urge to say “and” or “so” after an important point or after making a complete statement about your topic.  Practice explaining an idea or point and then giving it time to settle in with a pause.
  • New ideas require time to settle in. Audiences need time to digest what you say.  They need time to catch up to you and create meaning out of all of your words.  Give that to them by pausing for a beat. Use that time to breathe.

Ground yourself by pausing.

  • Oxygen is both calming and energizing.  I don’t need to tell you the importance of oxygen.  However, many people forget to breathe when they are speaking.  Practice breathing.  You will feel better.
  • Breathe for better sound. Ever feel like you just have to swallow when you are presenting?  That’s a sign of a high larynx, and the pitch of your voice is probably too high as well.  Breathe in through your nose and let the breath be deep. You’ll sound better and may never feel the swallow reflex kick in again!
  • Breathe for focus. Breath has been used by athletes and yogis alike for centuries as a way to focus away from the pain and strain of physical exertion.  Speaking and singing are more taxing than you might think.  We use three-quarters of our muscles when we say “hello.”  Use your breath to keep yourself grounded and focused on your presentation.

Practice breathing for better pauses

(The exercise below can also be listened to here   06-how-to-breathe.)
Start by sitting forward in a chair and letting your stomach muscles relax. Breathe in through your nose and imagine that you are a vessel filling up with air as you would pour water into a vase.  Fill up your abdomen first, then your lower ribs (you should feel them expand) and then all the way up to your chin.  Hold this breath now for a count of ten, and then exhale very slowly.  As you exhale, keep your ribs expanded and tighten your abdomen as you would if you were doing a “crunch.”  That is, the lower abdominal muscles should come in first as though you were rolling up a tube of toothpaste.  The unique part of breathing for performing as a singer is that once you have taken your initial breath, the ribs never really go in again unless you need a great deal of support or until you’ve finished the song.   Your back muscles, however, may need to be squeezed together for support of the air.  Never let the front of the rib cage drop as you use the air.  As speakers, people rarely have to push their breathing to those limits, but if you find that you are running out of the air, try the same method.

Related articles:

On Six Minutes:  Breathing: The Seductive Key to Unlocking Your Vocal Variety

On Speak! by Craig Senior: Permit Audience to Use Silence Effectively (PAUSE!)

On The Eloquent Woman:  When the speaker needs to catch her breath

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