Public speaking is all about what you say, right? Perhaps not. Frequently, when preparing to give a speech, whether to other lawyers, clients, potential clients, or a jury, we think only about what we want to convey, and forget about the needs of our audience. And sometimes what our audience needs is a little silence.
Just like white space helps your reader absorb and understand the text, silence helps your listener absorb your message.
Speaking quickly is one way we deprive our audience of silences in our speaking. It's natural when speaking in public to pick up the pace, particularly if you're nervous or your subject is one you're passionate about. But the problem isn't always (or solely) the pace.
One common mistake (and I'm prone to it as well) is that when we're asked to speak, we think we need to tell our audience everything we know about the subject. It becomes an ‘information dump.’ But the listener can’t absorb it all in one sitting. That frequently makes the ‘information dump’ counterproductive. The audience gets overwhelmed or bored, and turns off or zones out. They're not getting all of your content anyway.
If you're giving a speech, you want to make sure that your listeners get as much of your content as possible. In the case of a jury trial, you've got to make your key points and do it succinctly. You've got to tie up all of the evidence for them. But in a seminar, presentation or other public venue, leaving them wanting more from you isn't such a bad thing - maybe it will lead to more speaking engagements and more business.
So how can you help your audience absorb your message and still get your point across? Maybe these ideas will help:
- Remember the ‘rule of three.’ Identify the three most important points you want your audience to take away from your presentation. Focus your remarks on those three points.
- Pause after each main point.
- To slow down the pace even more, and ensure that your audience is keeping up, take questions after each main point.
- Use repetition to slow you down and ensure that your audience is keeping up. Don't wait until the end of your speech to summarize. Follow the old rule, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." After the questions, summarize that point again. Summarize all three points at the end.
- If there are no questions, you can get the ball rolling by telling your audience a common question that is asked about that point (and it’s another way of delivering your content or expanding on that main point).
- If you use notes, put a lot of white space in your notes, it can be helpful in reminding you to pause.
- Have a glass of water with you when you're speaking. Build specific breaks into your speech so you can take a sip of water.
- Make eye contact with people in your audience - that helps slow you down so that you're not just powering through your speech. It also gives you an opportunity to observe whether your audience understands what you’re saying, and helps you establish a rapport with them.
- Pretend you're talking JUST to that one person with whom you're making eye contact (although you can't linger on one individual too long - you need to switch people), and think about it as having a conversation rather than giving a speech. People are more likely to listen if they feel you're talking directly to them. Not only will you make a better connection with your audience, but you’ll slow down the pace.
- Imagine that your audience is made up of the very young or the very old. Make sure you don’t ‘talk down’ to your audience, but speak slow enough and get rid of the jargon so they can grasp what you're saying.
- Practice your speech in front of a sympathetic but honest friend who can critique your technique, or tape yourself and listen to the tape.
- Use silence to underscore important points in your talk. Pausing before or after a key detail in your presentation sets it apart and makes your audience take notice. Let that vital argument sink in.
- Take deep breaths before your speech. It will relax you and help you speak at a more natural pace.
The next time you’re preparing to speak in public, pay as much attention to the silences in your talk as you do to the actual words. Public speaking is a golden opportunity to market yourself. Take advantage of it.