21/11/2011

By Gavin Meikle, Head of Learning and Founder of inter-activ

When we start to prepare a sales pitch, speech, or presentation we tend to spend most of our preparation time trying to get the words right as if we were writing an article or report. The result is that most presentations contain far too much information. Data dumps are all too common and their effect is to make our audiences switch off.
When preparing the content of a speech or presentation your mantra should be “Less is more”.

Consider the analogy of a badly written advert where the writer feels the need to utilise every inch of paper and to fill it with words or pictures. The result is off-putting and unreadable. A good graphic designer knows that the white space around your message is as important as the content itself.

The same goes for verbal presentations. A 15 minute slot filled with almost nonstop talking is overwhelming. The equivalent of white space in a verbal presentation is silence. And silence or pauses is as important as the message.

Unfortunately, when speaking we seem to find silence uncomfortable and so we fill it with words or noises like “uhm” and “err”.

Learning to become comfortable with deliberate silences allows us to punctuate our verbal messages with appropriate pauses that emphasise key messages and allow our audience time to think about what we are saying.

I often use the analogy of likening presenting to feeding our audience. Some presenters use their message like a whole loaf of bread and try to ram home the whole loaf without giving the audience time to chew and digest it. Effective presenters break up their “loaf” into easily digestible “sandwiches” of content and use pauses to allow the audience time to swallow each bit of content before feeding them the next.

Being comfortable with using silence also enhances our credibility and authority with our listener. Listen to any of the great speakers like Churchill, Steve Jobs or Barak Obama and you will see a master class on how to use silence effectively.

How comfortable are you with silence? Get some feedback from your peers and see how you could become an even better communicator by saying less!


Gavin Meikle is the owner of inter-activ learning and development, a Southampton based consultancy specialising in effective face to face interpersonal communication and presentations. He can be contacted at gmeikle@inter-activ.co.uk or by phone on 07810 645309.


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