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Silence in Speech

Silence is a fundamental component of speech. It fills the space before, between and after our spoken words and it's another tool used by effective speakers. This may seem counter intuitive as we're often fearful of silence. It can feel really awkward. But it's often those silent moments that help your message to have a greater impact upon an audience.

When a speaker chooses the right moment to add a purposeful pause, the audience will want to pay close attention to what's next. This sense of anticipation causes the audience to listen closely.

It also makes any point you are making feel more dramatic. It can be kind of like that pause during the top of a roller coaster ride right before the drop. Anything said before or after silence becomes more dramatic. Try it out... read something aloud, then read it while embellishing the moments of silence between sentences. Isn't it more dramatic that way?

Silence also creates a strong connection between the audience and the speaker. If you begin a speech with a few seconds of pure silence, the entire room will often 'sync' with you during that time. It gives the audience a moment to get a first impression of you. The first words out of your mouth will be far more eagerly received than if you had just burst into your message without the audience being ready. This silence gives people a chance to feel the space in the room, to catch up to your message and to connect with you as a speaker.

I'd encourage any speaker to include an appropriate amount of silence into a speech. It can improve your stage presence in a variety of ways. Don't just take my word for it. Notice other great speakers and famous speeches. I'd wager that you will notice there are powerful moments of silence.

So begin by trying to include deliberate pauses after certain points in your speech. Learn to embrace the space that silence creates rather than running away from it. This idea is emphasized more poetically in the 11th chapter of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

Translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English