Silence is golden. This proverbial saying tells us that sometimes it’s better to say nothing than to speak. How true. Yet while we hear this from a very young age, few seem to take the meaning to heart. And fewer still feel comfortable coming to a stop during a meeting or presentation.
Every time I help people with their communication skills – whether it’s how they present or how they run meetings or how they sell — I always suggest, “don’t be afraid to stop talking.” I often see a surprised look in response to that suggestion. Sometimes I see a look of complete shock, as if to ask, “why would I stop talking?”
Good question. Why should you stop talking and pause from time to time? Here’s how it helps you, and your listeners:
- Gather your thoughts – Whether it’s an unexpected question or just our mouths getting ahead of our brains, sometimes we need a moment to think.
- Look confident – Many times speakers worry that if they stop talking they will look like they don’t know what they’re talking about. But pausing lets you appear unhurried and in command of your information.
- Let your point land – While we need time to think, the people we talk to need some time too. As we consider our next idea, they quickly analyze our last one. When you start again, you’re ready to move to the next point, and so are they.
- Reduce filler words – These nagging nuisance words like “uh” and “um” generally fill the verbal space as we think about the next thing we want to say. Some people say them so frequently that snarky people in the audience count them. But no one ever counts the number of pauses a speaker uses.
- Give the other person a chance to speak – Certainly some people feel comfortable jumping into a discussion or asking a question. But many will simply sit blankly and zone out. A momentary pause gives them a nonverbal cue that their participation is welcomed.
When you pause, you will sense what I call the time warp effect. That moment will seem incredibly long to you. But it will feel like a snap of the fingers to the people listening to you.
Resist the false sense that the length of your pause conveys weakness or uncertainty. Use that brief time to regain your bearings. And once you start talking again, that moment of silence is gone and everyone moves on.
So try to pause more when you speak. You’ll look and sound more comfortable in the moment.
Content originally posted on Sean’s blog Listen before Talk.