How can a speaker use silence to deliver a message with maximum impact? These five practices will improve your mind/body control to do just that.
We've heard the old adage that silence is golden, but how can a speaker use silence to deliver a message with maximum impact? By taking a pause.
A pause allows listeners to consider what has been said. It gives the mind time to register the importance of the words while permitting it to naturally transition to the next topic. The pause also conveys a confident belief in the message. As for the speaker, a pause allows the brain time to focus on the next thought. It quiets the mind during the moment of silence and releases the tension of a natural fight-or-flight reaction.
Many professionals understand the importance of the pause within communication, but few use it confidently. Instead, they feel the awkwardness of silence and use filler words – "uh," "um" – to fill the dead space. These filler words convey discomfort, uncertainty and a lack of confidence.
How can a speaker learn to use the pause with confidence? By practicing mind/body control. When professionals practice intentional mind/body control, they slow their pace of thinking and rate of breathing and can be comfortable and confident within the moment of silence.
There are several ways to develop mind/body control. With frequent practice, professionals can bring their mind and body to an equal state of inner peace and outer confidence.
1. Observe yourself.
The next time you speak – whether it's on the phone, in a meeting or on a stage – record yourself. Immediately watch the playback and observe your body movements, facial expressions, vocal inflections, tonality and rate of speech. Now, think back to what you were feeling and thinking in that moment. Did what you observe match how you were feeling? Did what you were doing throughout the conversation match what you thought your reactions were? Take note of your natural reaction to dead space and how you rushed to fill it. Be mindful of your discomfort and your need to quickly complete your thoughts.
Meditation is a brain exercise to consciously control your line of thinking. If you wish to control your thoughts and feelings of discomfort during silence, it's time to slow down and be quiet in your mind. As you meditate, concentrate on a single thought. If your mind begins to drift elsewhere, gently pull it back to the original thinking and slowly guide your mind to stay focused. Each time you practice steering your thoughts back into focus, consider it a bicep curl for your brain.
If you believe there isn't enough time in your day to meditate, consider this old Zen adage: "Sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then sit for an hour." The busy pace of our overscheduled days can amplify stress and anxiety, resulting in faster speech and unintentional body movement. Use meditation as a means to slow your mind, concentrate on your thoughts and find intention in your body's response system.
3. Slow your breathing.
Science has shown that when we mindfully control the rate at which we inhale and exhale, we change the way our mind reacts to exterior changes. In the Journal of Neurophysiology, Dr. Jose Herrero reported that during times of stress, or when we need heightened concentration, focusing on our breathing can indeed change the brain. By learning to slow the rate at which we inhale and exhale, we essentially release our mind from the anxiety of stressful situations – such as a high-stakes presentation, meeting or sales pitch.
To practice control over breathing, close your eyes while in a meditative state and concentrate on the rate at which you breathe. Listen to the sound your breath makes as it enters and exits your body. Mindfully practice taking deeper breaths and holding it for longer periods.
4. Calm the pre-speaking jitters.
Once you've practiced sitting in silence, focusing on your thoughts and slowing your rate of breathing, you can use these steps to ease presentation anxiety. Before taking the stage, meeting with a high-profile person or delivering your ideas to a large group, take a few moments in quiet to calm your nerves. Focus on your thoughts. Practice your ideas at a slower rate while concentrating on slowing your breath and heart rate. Your body will align with your concerted inward efforts, allowing you to think and speak with greater intention.
5. Utilize technology.
If sitting in silence with your eyes closed and mind open sounds intimidating at first, consider using apps designed to help you slow your thoughts and concentrate on your posture and breathing. Pzizz is a downloadable app available for both Android and iOS that has a meditative tool to help you slow your thinking, focus on your posture and concentrate on your breathing. It may be the transition you need to build up the stamina to practice on your own.
Everyone wants to deliver messages with impact. It's our goal as professionals to get others to act upon what we have to say. To accomplish this, we must demonstrate confidence in every word we speak and every pause we take. To make the pause a powerful part of your speaking, practice mind/body control. It will become as natural as breathing.