The sound of silence

One of the newest, and most interesting (also potentially most unsettling) phenomena for public speakers is the prospect of your audience tweeting your presentation in real-time.  If done right, it can serve as instantaneous feedback for parallel conversations that enrich discussions in real time.

But before going all high-tech on you, let me ask: 140 character real-time commentary notwithstanding, how do you know how your presentation is going?

Try this: listen for the sound of silence.

Recently I had the chance to listen to a series of excellent presentations to a medium-sized (45 person) group.  Sometimes, instead of giving all my attention to the presenter, I started listening to the room, and I discovered a distinct difference between quiet and silence.

Quiet was when people were listening.  But they were also taking notes and shifting around and perhaps doing some other small thing.

Silence was when the presenter got everyone’s full attention.  It’s the “you could hear a pin drop” moment  when the entire room was energized and focused on the speaker, hanging on each and every word.

And guess what?  9 of 10 times, it’s powerful stories that create that silence.

If the goal of your presentation is to convince people to act, if you’re trying to sell them on an idea, if you want them to remember what you said after they (and you) walk out the door, how much of their attention do you think you need?

You need it all, for as long as you can get it and hold it.

So lead with your stories.  Lead with the memorable narratives that capture people’s attention.

Your first objective isn’t trying to convince people that you’re smart or credible or have done your homework.  Your first objective is to convince them you’re worth listening to.  Get their attention first,  capture their imagination, get them to put everything else aside and engage with you personally and with your ideas.    Once you’ve done this, tell them what you want them to do.

But not the other way around.

So listen for silence, and build your presentation around finding ways to create it and exploit it.

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