I have always enjoyed listening to great speakers as they find words to describe the indescribable and can take you on a journey you didn’t expect. In the wake of the atrocious attack at Manchester Arena the Poet, Tony Walsh did just that by delivering an amazing tribute to Manchester and its people, called ‘This Is The Place’.
I was enthralled and also reminded of something all great orators do.
The passion and emotion he conveyed, the strength of the message, the words and imagery he used and most of all…. the pauses.
…… Just taking time to let the message sink in, for the audience to process the words and intention, to understand the depth of the words. He looked around at the people gathered and made that connection with them, he allowed the message to hit home.
Listening to it, made me realise that we don’t pause enough in life to just look around, let alone when we speak. Generally our brains are working faster than our mouths which can result in some embarrassing outbursts. A trusted and dear colleague once told me (after one such incident) that when words are omitted or Freudian slips are made, it’s the sign of someone who’s just too intelligent – the brain is working at 100 miles an hour, which is a good thing! I think he might have been trying to make me feel better but I took the ‘compliment’ all the same. I knew though that I just needed to pause…… and enjoy the quiet.
Having the right pace is important as well – you cannot rattle off a quick message then pause, look intently at everyone in the room and then start again at a million miles an hour. I have listened to people who deliver their presentations in such a way and I leave the room feeling drained; I’ve had to spend so much time keeping up with the pace and making sure I was at least looking engaged when the stare goes round the room, that I had totally missed the message and had no clue what was said. Imagine if that was a sales pitch and I was the decision maker…. it would be a “no”!
A relaxed, formal, personalised style is key. It sounds great on paper and I am the first to admit that it’s not easy in practice but it is possible! Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy the quiet:
- Structure your message / presentation around key points : have punchy statements that lend themselves to natural pauses; use the pauses wisely though as you don’t want it to be too staccato or jagged. Listening to Tony, he pauses when it makes sense, it may not be consistent and it might be in the middle of a sentence but it adds so much more meaning to the poem. Now, there is a difference between how someone delivers poetry vs a presentation in a business environment but both equally need structure and planning so the message is clear. Remember, anything you do should aid understanding not make it more complicated for the audience.
- Remove the fluff : if you’re using Powerpoint slides, limit the points between 3 and 5 on any one slide; keep the font to a minimum size 24 and remove unnecessary borders or images that do not strengthen the message… it is simply a distraction. However, sometimes one image is all you need to make a point and sometimes you don’t even need to speak! Look for those opportunities as they really work!
- Pitching the voice : when you do use pauses bring the voice up at the end, it keeps the audience’s attention through the pause and tells them that something important is coming… keep them hanging….. but not too long!
- Make eye contact with the audience : whether it’s a group of 5 or a room of 100, don’t be afraid of looking at people and making that connection, it engages them and makes them feel the message is for them. It also tells you how your presentation is going – if most are asleep then maybe you need to pick up the pace or change tack: if they’re looking at their phones then throw a question out there – you may not get an answer back but people will start to listen again…. Take the time to look.
- Watch different presenters and note what works.