Business meetings are often a bore.
Because they become completely devoid of energy.
The energy we have in our bodies depends mostly on something very simple.
Intake of oxygen.
If we don’t take oxygen in, our voices, our words, our presence, our impact upon other, and even our ability to think will all suffer. (And actually, pretty soon we also die.)
But we cannot take oxygen in properly – deep into the lowest parts of our lungs – if we do not pause.
Which is why ‘Dare To Reach A Full Stop’ is a favourite mantra of mine when I’m helping people with presentations.
Most presenters seem to think that words-wise, More is More – and that all full stops should be banned.
So they never, ever pause for breath.
Even when they’re speaking slowly, they’re usually filling the gaps with verbal tics like ums and ers – because they are TERRIFIED of silence.
And that’s because silence is powerful. (More on that in future articles.)
So if you could learn to make a friend of the pause, rather than being terrified of it, you’d have a powerful tool to use in your presentations.
Pausing allows you, the speaker, to take a BREATH.
Yet many businesspeople behave as if there’s no room for breathing spaces anywhere in their lives. They rush from one meeting to the next, from one task to the next, from one sentence to the next…
My colleague Tim Stockil (Ci: Creative intelligence) often points out that in the English language, ‘Inspiration’ literally means breath.
When we breathe in, not only do we do what’s physiologically necessary to give us energy and keep us alive, we also inspire ourselves with thought.
Ever heard someone gasp with a sharp intake of breath as an idea suddenly hits them?
Your body reacts to a new thought just as much as your mind – and you then need to ‘Express’ it: literally to ‘press out’ the idea from the body.
If you won’t allow your body to breathe, the continuous cycle of inspiration followed by expression has no room to take place.
Pausing isn’t just for your own benefit, it’s also for the benefit of your audience. It gives them time to absorb whatever you just said.
Most of us don’t actually talk in proper sentences.
We talk in ‘units of thought’. One idea, followed by another, then another.
You need to carry your audience along with you through each unit – because if you don’t, they’ll be several jumps behind you, struggling to grasp a point made several seconds ago and missing what you’re currently saying.
And soon they’ll just give up and stop listening altogether.
In conversation, our bodies know when we need a new breath without having to think about it.
But in a formal presentation, nerves and worries get in the way and we block that natural flow of Inspiration and Expression because we suppose that our brains know better than our bodies.
Even when people THINK they’re pausing, they’re usually not.
A pause is:
That doesn’t mean…
…that every few words…
…should be followed…
…by a pause.
You can have too much of a good thing, and pauses stuck between every few words for the sake of it quickly become monotonous – because they do nothing to sustain the sense of what you’re saying.
The breath inspires the thought, then supports the voice, and the words, and the sense of the message – so that everything works together.
If you get it right, you flow.
Flow means the rhythm is right.
Your audience is carried along with you in a forward momentum, not stuck in a monotonous round like, well, a stuck record which will pretty soon make audiences… switch off.
So a pause has to be the right length, and it has to be energised.
There’s a big difference between an energised pause and an empty silence – and audiences instinctively recognise it.
An energised pause is the sort we liked in stories when we were children. I had a book when I was little called Ant and Bee, and you had to turn every new page to find out where the next bit of the story was leading:
“…Ant stopped playing because he was called by (turn the page to see the next picture)…
“Bee called Ant to come home to their… (turn the page to see the next picture)…
“The cup was a nice home. … Their friend was called Kind… (turn the page to see the next picture)…
Each of those pauses is energised – sort of like a ski jump that keeps your audience in suspense and then lands them on the main point along with you.
An empty silence, on the other hand, is the sort of grinding to a halt that tells us something’s gone wrong. We instantly know that the presenter has lost the plot – and we get anxious for that presenter, willing it to be over for all our sakes.
That’s the kind of silence that most presenters dread – which is why they rush on through what they have to say so that (they think) they’ve eliminated all chance of an embarrassed silence.
Which isn’t true, and certainly isn’t helping the message get across.
Instead, next time you think you’ve forgotten what comes next, try simply to PAUSE and BREATHE.
The chances are that the point you thought had escaped you will arrive after all – on your breath.
Your next piece of Inspiration.