One of most effective of all Presentation Skills techniques happens also to be one of the simplest; and yet it is a technique that many presenters struggle to implement. I am talking about Pauses which, as Khalid Aziz says, have the effect of putting your words ‘into lights’, so adding real impact. In my Presentation Skills coaching sessions I point to two additional benefits.
First, pauses allow important messages to ‘sink in’ and register properly with your audience, who are probably hearing them for the first time. Too many presenters tend to be focused on simply getting through their presentation, so they ‘plough on’, giving equal weight and emphasis to everything they say. I find myself responding: “Hang on a minute; somewhere in there you made brief reference to the ‘highest rental rates ever achieved’, but you said it in a rather mater of fact way and moved on too swiftly to various bits of minutiae. If you have a record achievement to report, let’s dwell on that for a moment, with a bit of emphasis, a display of excitement and then a pause – to let that important message sink in.
The second additional benefit of pauses is that they can help with your overall pacing. Many people speak too fast when they present, certainly as they open – partly because their heart is pumping a bit faster at that nervy moment, so their speech speeds up as well. There are various methods to tackle nerves, but if you plan and implement pauses around key words, then together with the benefits already discussed, you will soon find your rate of speech coming down to a much more measured pace. And if you work at this, you have the beginnings of gravitas.
So pauses are one of the most useful and impactful tools in the business presenter’s toolbox – you only have to look at any Steve Jobs video to see how much he liked to deploy the pause. And yet most people are afraid to pause – they almost shudder at the thought of creating a ‘vacuum’ that must surely be filled as quickly as possible. Some of the best interviewers, of course, exploit this fear when asking difficult questions. They simply wait for an answer that eventually comes, but mainly because the interviewee can’t bear the prevailing silence.
The only way to overcome this fear is to start experimenting with pauses – in a planned way - and studying how others use them, both when speaking and in other fields. At The Magic Circle, for instance, when we are being taught tricks, the advice around the big ‘ta dah’ moment is often: “Having done that, do nothing else. Just allow the moment to sink in.” Dynamo, of course, takes this approach to an extreme, by simply walking way from his audience, allowing them to focus fully on the amazement he has just created.
In music, meanwhile, no one is completely sure whether Miles Davis actually said: “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play”, but somehow the attribution feels right. What I can be sure of – having seen for myself recently on a Sky Arts interview - is that Jeff Beck said: “Silence is gold dust. The trouble is that people don’t know when to shut up.”
Prof Khalid Aziz is Chairman of Aziz Corporate, the executive business & leadership coaching company