Stop — before you speak.
Napoleon Bonaparte was slight of stature and spoke with a “peasant” accent. However, he was a master at inspiring bravery and discipline with his speeches. He was known to stand, silent, for forty to fifty seconds before saying a word – his audience quieting and finally holding its breath, waiting.
The pause magnified the force of his words.
Pausing before we speak will command attention for our Toastmasters speeches, too. However, a pause will be a weak introduction if we have a weak opening. We need the pause – then an opening that grabs attention.
During a TED speech Jamie Oliver paused, silent while she looked at the audience. Then she said, “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat. “
If, instead, after the pause she had said, “I realize it’s been a long day for all of you, so I’ll try to keep my remarks brief” or “I’m glad you’re all here tonight” her speech would have struggled to become meaningful. We use a pause – then an impact to build and grow a powerful talk.
A pause before speaking fits well into the current Toastmaster custom of presenting the opening, then addressing the audience:
(Long pause) “There are those who believe, and those who do not believe. And there are those who believe that they don’t believe.” (Pause)
“Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and especially honored guests, what we believe can make us better, or worse, far worse, than we would have been without our beliefs.”
We seem to have an inordinate desire to fill the silence with blather; “Thank you for inviting me to speak.” Or, “It’s good to be here tonight.” Or, even worse, “I’m not as well prepared as I’d like, but here goes.”
We must resist the impulse to fill the silence; and use that silence instead to magnify our first remark. And we must never – ever – begin with an apology; it will color everything else we have to say.
During the pause we should stand tall and still and look directly at one specific listener at a time. Locking eyes with a listener could be discomfiting, so we focus instead on their eyebrow junction for about five seconds, then on to another’s, then on to a third’s. It will seem as if we are calling each listener to us, challenging every audience member to listen, hear – and feel with us. It will magnify the power of our opening.
Pause silently. Stand tall. Look at individuals. Then open with impact.