Sound of silence is a famous song by Simon & Garfunkel and you probably know the film “The Graduate”. as well. It is a typical paradox quote, how can something that is the opposite of noise have a sound?
Let’s step back a little. I am a member of Toastmaster International. When I or somebody else in our club delivers a speech there is somebody, the “Ah counter” who counts all non-verbal sounds such as Aah, so, but, and,..). I am usually among the winners in this category, the ones who use them the most.
I do really want to improve. Instead of trying to simply avoid using them, I started asking myself why I am using them in the first place. If you want to beat your enemy, you must first get to know it. If you want to combat cancer you must study the disease first.
I am using the ah.s while thinking what to say next, to bind the before and the after, to create a sometime impossible connection with a phrase to the next. Most of the time a moment of silence would be more appropriate, but as humans we are afraid of silence.
Silence is synonymous with death. A minute of silence in large events is usually a way to pay tribute to a deceased person. There is something awkward, unreal when a large crowd which is supposed to talk, chant suddenly drops completely silent.
The old telephone “audio call” which had accompanied us for more than a century. The speed of communication on the phone is way faster than the same exchange done face-to-face. Not just because in the past calls had been charged by the second and every second of silence had a cost, but in an audio call words are the only communication with the other party is by sound: we cannot look at each other in the eyes. When silence occurs we are taken aback: we think that maybe the line has dropped, maybe the other party had a sudden problem.
We have to fill gaps. Filling a gap with Ah.s and so,s is not the right answer: it is simply annoying for the audience. So how?
One way is to actually pause, be silent, let the previous words resonate in the room. Find a phrase that resonates with the audience, something that gives them food for thought. It can be a controversial statement, something that is against common logic; it can be the logical conclusion of what you have just said: the take-away. In this case, the pause is not only a possibility, it is a requirement. If you simply keep talking, you will not give the audience time to digest your previous conclusions.
Sometimes you have a gap simply because you need to think what to say next. You forgot, you realize you have to change on the fly your presentation, you got an unexpected question. Filling the gaps with ah, so or starting a sentence and just moving to another means transmitting your insecurity to the audience; better to resort to non -verbal communication: let me know you are pondering, let them know you are acknowledging the question. Just keep eye-contact with your audience.
Don’t be afraid of silence; if you are allocated 5 minutes to your speech you do not have to continuously talk.
Don’t be afraid fo your audience: if you stop talking audience still pays attention to you, just acknowledge with your expression.
Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses: everybody may have a gap in her memory, got lost in his speech. Do not start muttering ah.s, half phrases; take a deep breath and your listener will understand.
Originally published at http://mauri63blog.wordpress.com on May 31, 2020.