“How would you like your hair cut?” a talkative barber asked a client. “In silence,” the man replied! This is one of the oldest recorded jokes, attributed to Roman times.
Most people shy away from silence as it is awkward and scary. We often see silence as a vacuum that needs to be filled, quickly and furiously.
Yet silence can also be powerful, if used well.
When you finish narrating a story, you will usually be greeted by complete silence instead of rapturous applause. The silence does not mean your story has not worked; quite the opposite. The silence is your audience thinking about what you have said.
Quite often you have barely finished speaking in most other contexts when people rush in with what they want to say. As such, the novelty of being greeted by silence at the end of a story is so unusual that it can unnerve even seasoned presenters. I prep clients by saying “Bask in the silence!”
Research (in a paper aptly titled ‘Why silence is golden’) has studied the effects of silence in consumer advertising and found that a silent segment in a television commercial increased attention and recall. The researchers recommend that advertisers should selectively pause for a cause.
Consider the power of a well-timed pause – especially when you are presenting. It takes practise to get the timing right (try counting slowly to three in your head). This will feel like eternity, but gives your messages the space they deserve.
Yamini Naidu is a global thought leader in storytelling and business communication. She is a director at yamininaidu.com.au, and was previously a director at One Thousand & One, a company she co-founded in 2004.