Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Speaker silence: How to be quiet at the right times

When I asked readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook what they'd focus on if they could improve just one thing about their public speaking, Jennie Poppenger and Tonya Woolfolk voted for "How to be quiet at the right times."

And you think we deal with easy questions on this blog, don't you?

Context counts for a lot in answering this question, and I don't have more than that short phrase to go on, but you should consider your context when considering when to be quiet and what's the "right time."  Just because you have the floor as the speaker or presenter doesn't, for example, mean you should fill the time allotted--a common failure of speakers who leave no room for questions. That tendency is one that nearly guarantees you'll send your listeners home frustrated and unsatisfied.

I like to think about the speaker's silence as a powerful tool.  Can you be generous enough to let others make points and share what they know? Then you can look confident and self-assured...and still have the last word as you summarize. But that also depends on your having established yourself as in charge of the agenda or the discussion. Just letting people talk over you isn't what I'm suggesting. It's a balancing act, but I'd rather have you include others than shut them out with too many words.

Silence can also help you look and act thoughtful. Too often, speakers think they must respond to every question, thought or sly suggestion--particularly in a competitive workplace. Sometimes, a thoughtful, "I'll have to consider that some more," or "I'd like to give that more thought before responding" is better.   Pauses help with silence, too. There's no reason you should avoid pausing to think before answering--far from it.  (And pausing silently is a great alternative to ums and uhs.)

Finally, let people finish before you add your voice to the discussion, whether they are making a point or asking a question. You may be enthusiastic and attempting to reinforce a point, but take your time and let the other person finish first. Then pause and respond. If you have trouble with this, practice waiting until the sentence is done, tap your foot three times, then speak.

Related posts:  Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk less

17 reasons to welcome audience questions

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