Silence: friend or foe?

I spend a lot of time telling my clients not to be afraid of silence, how a pause reinforces your point and gives the audience time to take in what you’ve said. This is true. Silence is a powerful tool in public speaking – but you have got to be in control of it.

Some years ago, I took an evening course in freelance journalism and I often think about the lesson in interview techniques. Silence is a powerful tool in journalism too. At what the person intended to be the end of an answer, if you, the journalist, remain silent, the discomfort of that silence can all too easily prod the hapless interviewee into blurting out all sorts of indiscretions.

And this is one to one. Imagine how much more pressure there is when you’re faced with a whole crowd of people waiting for you to speak. The urge to say something – anything – to fill the space becomes unbearable. Say something clever, something witty, something apt, now! I don’t need to tell you how dangerous this can be.

Even if you’re going to be saying only a few words – to introduce a speaker, to give the vote of thanks, to propose a toast – it’s essential you plan in advance exactly what you’re going to say. Sometimes – for example, if you’re thanking someone – you may not have much time to plan, but even a few seconds’ thinking can make the difference between saying and not saying something you regret.


About Georgie

Coach and consultant in effective communication - public speaking, interviews & pitches, training, lecturing, meetings, debates & discussions. Motivational speaker
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2 Responses to Silence: friend or foe?

  1. Marcus says:

    You’re absolutely right about this. When I was young and over-confident, I embarrassed myself when introducing a speaker. I knew he worked in the Department for the Environment and, knowing nothing else about him but feeling I ought to say more, I waffled on about the importance and relevance of ecological issues – only to have him point out his job was totally unconnected to anything green.

    The moral of the story is, if you haven’t done your homework, keep your intro to the barest minimum.

  2. georgie926 says:

    Thank you for sharing this confession, Marcus. I’m sure most of us have done something similar at some stage – I certainly have. The important thing is to learn from it, as you did.

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