A common, yet highly effective storytelling structure, the hero’s journey, is based on the premise of describing a contrast between the world an individual or character is currently in and the world in which that individual or character could be living with a particular product, idea, or service. The presentation delivery synonym of the hero’s journey would be a simple technique called silence. Lack of sound impacts our brains just as much as the presence of sound. In 2010, research from the University of Oregon found that the auditory cortex of the brain consists of two distinct sound processing paths – with one set of synapses triggered by the start of sound and another set triggered by the absence of sound. Several studies and rigorous research have discovered that silence impacts the brain and body in a variety of ways. The silent presenter incorporates a sound void to:

1. Spark relaxation

The sound waves of a noise travel from the cochlea, activating the amygdalae in the brain’s temporal lobes along the way, which causes an influx of cortisol – a stress hormone. In addition to raising stress levels, sound can negatively affect your heart and sleep patterns, and can even cause tinnitus. A study conducted in the mid-2000, however, found that a brief, two-minute stint of silence calmed people more than relaxing music – ultimately lowering blood pressure and improving the brain’s blood circulation. The absence of external stimuli in between songs on a track snaps listeners out of their state of focused attention – producing a stark contrast in experiences.

Silent Presenter

Source: This is Your Brain on Silence

Presentation tip:

If appropriate for the topic and conducive to the event venue, begin your next presentation with a period of silence – approximately 1 to 5 minutes – to set a calming and relaxing tone for the rest of your talk. Business Insider’s Steven Benna suggests using silence during conflict or heated discussion to calm those involved. For example, if a Q&A or discussion session gets a little out of hand, interject with a rhetorical question to promote reflection and thought and diffuse arguments.

2. Enhance attention

In our increasingly digital world, the demand for our attention exceeds supply. With our attention being pulled every which way from sun up to sun down, the brain’s prefrontal cortex slowly shuts down. We become too exhausted to conduct higher level thought processes; to make decisions; and to concoct solutions to problems. Silence creates an environment free of sensory overload – a vital condition of the attention restoration theory. The implementation of silence in a presentation could increase focus and creativity, as well as relieve the cognitive load of the audience.

Presentation tip:

Nelson Mandela, former South African anti-apartheid activist, effectively utilized silence to emphasize a particular point – typically a key message. For those nuggets of wisdom that you want your audience to pay attention to, the use of a silent pause will grab their attention and even impact memory retention. One of the best ways to open up a presentation is with silence. Utilize the power of the pause to enhance attention by starting your presentation with it.

3. Affect memory

Silence enhances spatial memory – stimulating development in the region of the brain called the hippocampus, especially after two hours in a sound-free environment. According to a 2013 study in Brain Structure and Function, unexpected silence increased “newborn immature neurons.” Another study published in The Gerontologist in 2015 researched the level of distraction adults – both young and old – reported while listening to either silence or background music during a learning task. All members involved in the study determined that music was more distracting than silence during the learning action; however, the memory of the older adults was affected by the music, while the memory of the younger adults was not. In a presentation situation, these findings suggest that silence will be subjectively and objectively less distracting to all age groups. All the more reason to employ silent moments throughout your next presentation performance.

Presentation tip:

The silent presenter who also includes interactive or individual activities throughout a presentation should analyze the impact of silence during these kinds of learning tasks. Consider basking in the sweet sounds of absolutely nothing while your audience members focus on the activity you have given to them so that they will remember the message you are trying to convey through it.

4. Generate activity

Incorporating pauses at appropriate junctures can embolden the crowd to participate in your presentation more fully.  A recent article from Entrepreneur argued that silence establishes the intention that moves people to take action visually, verbally, or otherwise. It does so by allowing reflection without the exertion of intellectual thought, which spurs creativity and imagination. This imagination is oftentimes a byproduct of the auditory cortex’s ability to engage in memory retrieval in the absence of sound. The use of pauses or silence in conjunction with descriptive language or visualization techniques could dramatically increase the activity in the brain of each member of your audience.

Presentation tip:

To incite the imagination of your audience, combine silence with visualization for a presentation activity. For example, if you are giving a talk about how your appliance could improve the lives of consumers, ask them to close their eyes and visualize their current world. Then, use descriptive language to illustrate how their world could look like with your appliance. Finally, don’t speak for a minute or so to provide the space for their imagination to prosper.

5. Gather information

The silent presenter is silent not only to elevate the experience of his or her audience, but also to cultivate his or her own respect for the audience’s thoughts and feedback. The silent presenter takes what he or she has garnered from the discussion with the audience to improve an idea, concept, product, or service. Additionally, the silent presenter uses silence to collect his or her thoughts, to refocus before delivering the next point, and to concentrate on the content – the nuts and bolts of the presentation and the core reason he or she is speaking to the audience.

Presentation tip:

The silent presenter is quiet to encourage input from the audience. To actively listen to their questions, concerns, comments, and feedback. To consciously process it all and respond with a statement that addresses the audience members respectfully and intentionally. Does your presentation include a Q&A session? If you typically find yourself filling in the silence between the question and an answer or even in the gap between answers, consider practicing silence to encourage more responses from the audience. Allow yourself to be silent during your presentation – refraining from cutting a participant off at all costs, especially if it is unnecessary. Can’t think of what to say next? Skip the ums and opt for a brief pause.

Conclusion

Take the silent presenter’s lead during an upcoming performance to startle, delight, provoke deeper thought, and demonstrate respect to your audience. From negotiations and daily gossip to presentations and classroom lessons, silence breaks the cacophony created by the skyrocketing demands of our lives. To learn more about the strength found in silence, check out the following resources:

Why Nelson Mandela Was a Great Leader

5 Killer Ways to Start Your Next Presentation

The Power of the Pause in Public Speaking

How Silence Can Make You More Powerful


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