Stop talking. Literally stop talking for 1-2 seconds, and you’ll notice the difference in impact that your public speaking has. Why? Because embracing the pause gives you so much more than just a moment of silence.
Let’s start by looking at what often happens to us when speaking in public. (Take heart… you’re not alone!)
Public Speaking Problems: Anxiety
When we’re talking in front of others, our nerves may get the better of us. One of the symptoms of anxiety is shortness of breath, which in turn leads us to feel more anxious as our body does not feel it’s getting enough oxygen to perform the task at hand. This is the baseline state that our body is in when we are under pressure to give a speech.
Public Speaking Problems: Negative Thinking
Our thoughts may then start to kick in, and when we are anxious, it’s hard to stay focused and positive.
“We can start to worry that our message may not be received well, may not be right, or we’ll forget our words.
Our thoughts can often feel like they’re freewheeling, like a washing machine on spin cycle.”
Public Speaking Problems: Talking Faster
This in turn may lead us to start to talk faster. Unnecessary sounds and filler words may creep in – ‘you know’, ‘umm’, ‘err’ and ‘so’. We may start to rush our message, hoping that we will get to the end quicker, or we may feel that the person we’re talking to isn’t understanding us, so we try and fill in the gaps.
How you’re perceived while speaking in public
Often, in our anxious state, we forget to consider how this might be viewed by those on the receiving end of our speech. Let’s take a look.
If we are standing close to the listener, they may be able to hear our breathing. If on a microphone, this may be picked up as rapid sounds, or background noise and interference. Our audience may pick up on the fact that we sound breathless, and this could lead them to feel less than relaxed, and, in turn, disengaged.
It’s hard to smile and look calm when we are having negative thoughts. We may frown, our face look ‘pinched’ or not make eye contact. Whilst it’s important to look serious if the topic requires it, looking at ease and in control can help our audience to feel calmer too.
Our brain needs time to process information, and so talking quickly may not give our audience time to absorb the key points. If we use empty filler words, instead of appropriate pauses, this may also give the appearance that we aren’t convinced about our message, or that we haven’t planned our speech.
Knowing these points, how can we use the pause to get us back into a state of confidence, and deliver our message with impact?
Three Easy Tips To Improve Your Public Speaking
Think about when you observe someone sleeping deeply… notice how calm the breathing is. Now, spend a moment before you start talking or go on stage to focus on your breath and keep it deep and slow. Breathe in deeply, pause and hold for a second or two, then breathe out slowly. The focus on something other than what you’re about to do, can also give your brain a much-needed pause. Continuing the deeper breathing during our speech will help us to remain calm.
From breathing deep and slow naturally flows calmer thoughts. But even before you get on stage, some amount of thinking can help you be a better public speaker.
Pause, and take the time to think about what you would like to happen when you give your speech.
“Visualise how you want to walk on stage, how your voice will sound, what are the key points you want to emphasise to your audience.”
Consider what you will do if something does go wrong, such as the lights going out or you forgetting your words. Planning for different eventualities can help you feel more self-assured.
Pausing before you start speaking allows you to ensure your audience is giving you their full attention, and conveys that what you have to say is important. While slowing down your natural speaking speed might feel awkward at first, you can use the pause at the end of important points, to give your audience time to process the information. A gap, rather than an umm or erm, can also give an impression of confidence and clarity, ensuring your audience listens to what follows.
By embracing the pause, we allow ourselves time to calm down, gain control and focus on giving our audience the best experience, and the opportunity to hear our message.
If you liked this post, and want to develop your own personal speaking style, or need customised coaching to help you through your next presentation, please get in touch.