I recently had the opportunity to speak to a room full of high school students. As we walked through the presentation, the volume in the room began to grow. As the noise level grew, I knew I had to do something quickly to gain control of the room and get our discussion back on track.
In this moment, I deployed an age-old technique that will not just draw your audience in but leave them on the edge of their seats: Silence.
Silence is an often overlooked tool that every presenter should have in their back pocket. It can be pulled out without any notice and, when executed correctly, keeps your audience wondering what’s coming next. With this in mind, we put together a short list of great ways to leverage silence in your next presentation.
Often used throughout comedy, the pregnant pause causes your audience to lean in and wait with anticipation for what you are about to say next. In order to execute this well, you must wait just a few seconds longer than what is comfortable, but not long enough to become awkward. This should be used during punch line or key idea unveilings as it is sure to stick in your audience’s minds.
This type of silence is great when you are trying to re-engage an audience after a discussion or break. Simply start your content and then pause part-way through a sentence to get your audience’s attention and let them know you are starting. If that does not fully quiet them down, repeat the same sentence and pause a bit later than before. After 1 or 2 repeats, your audience is sure to have noticed it is time to settle in and listen to what you have to share.
This type of pause is a great way to spark discussion and keep your audience interacting. While the other two options are focused primarily on regaining attention, the waiting game should be implemented when looking for audience engagement. By posing a question and then waiting for a response, you put the pressure on the audience to respond before the room gets awkward. Silence is uncomfortable, and by deploying the waiting game, you allow time for your audience to engage before it hits that point.
Silence is a powerful tool, and yet as presenters, we often overlook it in an effort to get our content to our audience. The next time you are looking to re-engage, connect with, or quiet your audience, consider silence. It can change the game.
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