We’ve all heard the cliché “It is not what you say but how you say it!”.
Now imagine you’re standing on stage at an annual conference and about to pitch your idea to an audience of 100 people.
You may know most people in the room, but despite this you are a little nervous because public speaking is not your forte. Your hands are a little shaky, your throat feels a little dry. You go through your notes one last time with only one thought in your mind “this will be over soon”. And off you go.. you can see smiles of encouragement from some of your close allies and team mates, giving you a boost of confidence as you stand there feeling exposed.
Everything seemed to be going fine, but 5 minutes in, you notice your audience getting distracted. You feel your throat getting dryer as you sense their attention wavering. You think to yourself perhaps they’re bored! So you decide to pick up the pace and talk a little quicker, making sure you get through all the most important points. You finally get through your presentation only to find yourself coming off stage practically gasping for air.
Now, this is perfectly fine, it’s perfectly human. In fact, almost everyone I know gets nervous at the thought of standing on stage and publicly speaking to 100 people. And almost everyone knows that maintaining the audience’s attention is the hardest task of all.
So what can you do to help?
Believe it or not, putting that much needed silence into your presentation helps maintain your audience’s attention. This is the hallmark of a skilled and good presenter. Ironically, it’s also an effective way to keep your audience focused on the intellectual points you are making rather than on your delivery style.
Short pauses, lasting a second or two, can help you separate your thoughts and give your audience a chance to absorb what you had to say. It also helps if you change the inflection in your voice during the end of a point as it signals to the audience that another point is coming their way.
Pauses are also an effective way to highlight or stress the importance of something you are saying. Just a few seconds silence before any word or thought you want the audience to focus on will most definitely get them thinking about it.
MAKE THEM LAUGH!
Laughter is extremely difficult to get and so easy to discourage. Try as much as possible to maintain eye contact with your audience for a little time longer when you deliver your punch line. And remember to PAUSE! Once the laughter erupts, avoid speaking, as your voice will most probably be drowned out by the noise of the audience.
Your audience size will also affect the way you use humor and timing. After you deliver your punch line, you should expect the reaction of a large audience to take a little longer compared to a smaller audience. You will also have to wait until the seemingly ripple effect of your punch line gets to the audience in the back row.
So there you have it, don’t be afraid to pause and be silent on stage. Silences add that much needed polish in your presentation making you appear as a confident expert. Couple your pauses with a bit of humour and you’re definitely on a roll.