How to get comfortable with silence
If you’ve read this article here, you know that there are 11 excellent reasons to pause, including looking confident and together, even if you feel like this:
The problem is with silence the silence seems sooooo long, when we’re the ones doing it.
Conversely, anyone we’re speaking with needs that time: their brains are flipping and connecting like a synchronised swimming team. So how long is too long?
Here’s a simple 5 minute exercise I give to clients. Many of them totally transform their delivery and confidence after doing this old drama school activity one time only.
Follow this simple exercise to accustom yourself to the pause. All the steps in total will take you no longer than 5 minutes to complete.
The 6 Step Exercise
1. Grab something to read aloud
Take a piece of literature, from a childen’s book, pamphlet or even an instruction manual. You only need about four sentences.
2. Mark the document
It’s like someone waving at you to STOP, so don’t omit this step. On your chosen section, mark in dashes as follows:
after . / ! / ? – mark one dash /
after , / ; / : / – mark two dashes //
new paragraph – three dashes ///
Here’s an example of one I’ve done below:
from The King Who Loved Carpet
Once upon a time,/ there was a king who never wore shoes.// He was forever bruising and scraping his royal feet.// One day,/ completely exasperated with this problem, / he turned to his trusty minister and ordered: / “I want you to carpet the entire kingdom by tomorrow morning or it’s off with your head!” ///
The poor minister sat up half the night thinking about this impossible task,/ knowing full well that he would surely lose his head come morning.
3. Record into your phone / voice recorder
When you’re at one dash / – silently mouth ‘one elephant’;
at two dashes // – mouth ‘one elephant, two elephants’ and
at three dashes /// – mouth ‘one elephant, two elephants, three elephants’
4. Play it back
The remark that most people make is that the pause felt SO LONG when they were doing it, but on replay, didn’t seem that long at all.
You may notice that the pauses are correct but the reading is a little flat.
In that case, move on to…
5. Record it again,
This time focus on changing the pitch when you want to emphasise.
6. Replay it.
Play it back again. You may notice that adding this extra layer has sacrificed the pauses.
Leave it. A few days later, go back to the exercise, repeating steps four to six and you’ll notice it becomes easier for both the vocal colour and pauses to synchronise so you don’t sacrifice the energy in the piece.
It’s a bit like like learning to drive: you’re able to drive smoothly but forget to look in the mirror. Another time, you look in the mirror frequently but stall.
By concentrating on only one factor at a time, you’re behind the wheel in a few weeks, and it’s all fallen into place. Thus, when you read only think of pausing the first time, then concentrate on emphasis the second time.
“Doesn’t it sound a little patronising?”
This is what one of my clients said after he heard himself do this exercise with the excerpt from the children’s story above. Well, yes, it would do if you use that vocal tone.
I then advised him to redo it, talking about his subject of data analysis in Marketing, which was more grown up. He was to do it paying the same attention to emphasis and pausing.
“OK,” he confessed, “yes, it does sound better. It’s obviously the content and tone that change but the pauses don’t.”
In as little as 5 minutes twice a week for two weeks, you’ll nail the ability to use pauses effectively while sustaining the dynamism of your speech. In fact, I’ve often heard clients totally transform their delivery after doing this exercise once through.
Becoming comfortable with the pause will give you greater confidence and control.
- grab a piece of writing (4 sentences)
- mark pauses;
- re-record, if necessary with focus on emphasis;
Total time: 5 minutes