9. Hold a silence to demonstrate mastery.Novices are afraid of pause. And they are terrified of silence. Some gabble frantically to prevent the least hesitation in their speech. Indeed, many talented speakers are ruined by breakneck delivery.
Pausation is one of the most effective tools a speaker can use. Pauses in the right places allow significant statements time to sink in; they give the audience space to applaud or to laugh; they separate ideas; they help develop the structure of the speech. Pauses can come at the end of a ‘paragraph’ or group of sentences; at the end of a sentence; in the middle of a sentence; several times within a sentence; or even after every word in a sentence. Pauses can last one second or four or five seconds. Or they can be long ringing silences of eight or ten seconds. Pauses always seem much longer to the speaker than to the audience. This is because he cannot see himself. For the audience, the change of the speaker’s expression, how he moves his head and body, are events that help fill in the gap. To prove this to yourself, record a speech both on a tape recorder and on a video recorder. When the voice tape is played back, some silences will seem quite long; but when the video tape is screened those silences will probably disappear. Silences become awkward when it is obvious they are unintentional. The speaker stops at an inappropriate point, maybe in mid-sentence, his face shows concern, he fumbles with his notes. It is obvious something has gone wrong.
Awkward silences usually occur when the speaker loses concentration and becomes too self-aware. Instead of focusing on what he should be saying, instead of giving out to his listeners, he becomes too conscious of the audience pressing in upon him – and in the worst situation his ‘mind goes blank’. (Actually, it doesn’t go blank. Quite simply he starts thinking of the audience, not of his speech.) The remedy for this is: don’t panic. Above all, don’t look worried. Stay calm as you pick up your thread once more. Generally, however, silences are golden. The ability to hold a long silence and make it seem natural, is the mark of a gifted speaker, which clearly demonstrates his mastery over the audience.
10. Welcome interruptions. Some speakers are terrified that someone will interrupt them with a question or comment. Actually, this is one of the best things that can happen, because it shows that someone in the audience has engaged with what you’re saying, and, if you have the time to offer a brief response, it can actually lead to genuine progress on the point you were making. And two-way conversation (assuming you’re minimally good at it) is always a tension-reducer.
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