The Power of Silence

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Ahh, summer. A time to slow down, pause, reflect. It inspired me to share some insight on pausing.

In my fifteen years of coaching, I have discovered the most underutilized aspect of presentation technique is…The Pause. This doesn’t just mean slowing down and not rushing through your speech, but rather pausing as a deliberate action. Incorporating purposeful pauses into your speaking allows you time to collect your thoughts, gives your audience a chance to fully comprehend what you’re saying, and makes you sound like you have some gravitas. Remember: powerful people rarely rush. You shouldn’t, either. 

Consider Winston Churchill. Churchill won a Nobel Prize in Literature for his speech making. One of his favorite tricks: he marked up his speeches with delivery cues, most notably leaving “white space to remind himself to pause.”

Try this pause exercise with a piece of a notable Churchill speech. First, read through it with no pauses. Then read through it again, adding pauses at the | | (Note: the punctuation is removed)

  1. We shall fight on the beaches we shall fight on the landing grounds we shall fight in the fields and in the streets we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender.
  2. We shall fight on the beaches | | we shall fight on the landing grounds | | we shall fight in the fields and in the streets | | we shall fight in the hills | | we shall never surrender.

You can find the audio of Churchill saying these words here. Note where he adds pauses, and the effect that has on you as a listener. Composer John Cage mastered the use of silence with his 4’33 Concerto. This one is a must listen… trust me!

Pausing keeps audiences engaged just as much as it helps them process and understand what you’re saying to them. They are hearing this information for the first time and need you to allow them a moment to “get it,” or as I like to say, “to let the point land.” If you don’t give them that moment, you’ll lose them.

There are two main pause types to enhance audience understanding: the Anticipation and the Amplification. A long pause before an important idea or climactic keyword is… the anticipation pause; it heightens suspense. A long pause after an idea or phrase underscores what has just been said… this is the amplification or reflection pause… 

My favorite pause is the one before you speak. You’re at the podium in front of the room, or seated on the panel about to answer a tough question… and just before you are about to respond... you take a moment... and... Pause. Hello, gravitas. 

There are some bad pauses, yes, like those awkward ones mid... sentence, but that… is another… post. Take some time to play with pauses in the following phrases. Read these first sentences with no pauses:
   a. When Ann had eaten the dog ran away. (Yum, dog is delicious)
   b. Hank her date said Bob was quite boring. (Who you calling boring?!)
   c. Kevin said the president is ignorant. (Who’s the ignorant one?)
Now, try reading them with pauses at the | |, taking note of how the pause placement transforms the meaning of the sentences:
   a.  When Ann had eaten | | the dog ran away. 

   b.  Hank | | her date | | said Bob | | was quite boring. 

   c.  Kevin | | said the president | | is ignorant. 

Further Reading:

Winston Churchill:
John Cage:


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Do a Pre-Mortem Before Your Next Talk


If you have worked with me in the past, you know I’m a proponent of positive thinking and following your strengths. But being positive and channeling your thoughts doesn’t mean being self-delusional or ignoring the obstacles life throws at you. In fact, I encourage you to embrace your “Dougie Downer “ side, the part of you that foresees all the possible catastrophes that can happen and potential pitfalls in presenting.

The Pre-Mortem is just that: going through the potential problems with your eyes wide open and coming up with solutions. Acknowledging that obstacles exist. In Ryan Holiday’s book: The Obstacle is the Way he writes:

 “Competitors surround our business. Unexpected problems suddenly rear their heads. We’re out of our comfort zone. Don’t forget, there are people out there looking to get you. They want to intimidate you. Rattle you. They want you thinking and acting on their terms, not yours.

So the question is, are you going to let them? When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. Stuff is going to happen that catches us off guard, threatens or scares us. Surprises (unpleasant ones, mostly) are almost guaranteed. The risk of being overwhelmed is always there.

In these situations, talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and poise are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill.

Defiance and acceptance come together well in the following principle: there is always a countermove, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up. No one said it would be easy, and of course, the stakes are high, but the path is there for those ready to take it.”

Here’s How You Do a Pre-Mortem:

Step One: Write up a list of every possible problem and worst case scenario that you have running through your mind. It is crucial that you write them down and limit yourself to ONE HOUR. Sit down with a pen and paper, a computer, your phone and write ‘em.

Don’t try and come up with solutions just yet. Let your mind run free with all of your worst fears and get them on paper or the screen. Some examples my clients have had: I blank my main point, I lose my notes, My topic is completely wrong, The audience is a bunch of a-holes, etc..

Step Two: Sift through and decide your top five issues. Just limit yourself to 5 to start and save the rest for later.

Step Three: Come up with solutions. This is the Easy Part! It’s important to come up with specific actions that you can take not just thoughts about how to solve it. Like:

What if I blank my main point?

  1. Then I will look down and read my notes because I will have my main point written large, legible font.
  2. Then I will read the PowerPoint I created.
  3. Then I will take a breath.

What if I lose my notes?

  1. Then I will go to my back up notes that I have on my phone.
  2. Then I will go with what I remember.
  3. Instead of relying heavily on notes, I’ll say my talk out loud over and over again before the talk so that I have it committed to memory in a way that feels natural.

And in the case where you can’t do anything…well, it will suck, but I’ll be okay. Like sometimes you just have a group of a-holes and that is that. Are you going to let them define you?

There are actually many ways of dealing with tough audiences, but that is a different post. If nerves get you, check out this past article: Seven Strategies to Overcome Nerves.

Face the doubts, the problems, the fears head on. Deal with them. If your biggest hurdle is your mindset and negative thoughts ruminating regardless of your level of preparedness, then I suggest NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and Hypnosis as a good starting point. I can help you on both of those fronts. 

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Speak Up to Improve Your Energy During Presentations!

The 10% Rule. Typically, when you present in front of groups or on camera, you need an extra 10% of expression, oomph, and volume. The latter, volume is your secret weapon to boosting your presence. Speaking up, just a bit louder, tends to increase your overall energy and expression which will make you a more dynamic speaker. Here’s an exercise from Lyle Mayer’s book: Fundamentals of Voice and Articulation. For more exercises and to purchase the book, click here 



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The Most Common Reasons People Work on their Speaking Skills

I want to hurl. I avoid public speaking, taking the lead on calls or speaking up in meetings because I am so nervous that my voice shakes and I completely blank out. If someone asks me a question, my heart races and I have to ask them to repeat the question because I have no idea what they just asked. I have seriously finished speaking and have no idea what I just said. When I even think about doing a presentation I start to feel anxious. I know it’s hurting my career advancement. Before I get to the meeting or on the call I have ideas, but I just rarely, if ever share them. After the meeting, I may reach out via email or individually to people, just not in the group. I’ve had questions at seminars and didn’t ask them because I had to step up to a mic. Usually one on one is fine, except if it’s someone I want to impress: a potential client, VP, job interview, etc.

I’m fine. Just fine. I am okay at presentations and know that if I want to step into a larger role, I need to speak more often. Or I am in a new role and I’m expected to run meetings and do more talks. I’m overall okay, but I’m not sure if I’m preparing effectively. I’ll speak up in a meeting if I really have something to say or if someone asks. I get a little nervous at the beginning of the talk but relax after a minute or so. Overall, I feel okay with what I’m doing, but I’m not sure if I’m projecting confidence and if my voice is loud enough or if I’m making complete sense. I ask myself: am I adding value to my audience?

The presentation or interview is scheduled and I need some practice and advice. I have an outline, a shell, a PowerPoint, an idea of what I’m going to talk about or be asked. But, am I organized? Compelling? Do I make sense? Am I using my gestures well and do I answer questions effectively? Am I framing my answers in a positive way? Is my opening strong?

I’m good with the prepared part, but the questions are killing me. Or the unexpected question…what do I do? I’m not great at thinking on my feet.

Does my accent hurt my credibility? Am I hard to understand?

Everyone asks me to speak up or repeat myself. Is it my volume? I feel like I’m talking as loud as everyone else, and I don’t want to shout. Or am I rushing and talking too fast? I just want to get the talk over with and don’t want to bore everyone.

If you identify with any of these, reach out and let me know. I can create a package or plan for you.

Two articles that made me go, "hmmm"

I wanted to share two articles that really got me thinking. Let me know if they resonate with you:

  • The Stanford Big Data Approach to Public Speaking left me asking a lot questions, like: How’d they analyze all of those presentations? Read the full article here
  • The Neuro-biology to Grace Under Pressure article reminded me of the research and studying I did while becoming certified as a hypnotist. So I had to share. 
    Read the full article here

The Context Epidemic

I listened to an incredibly smart speaker yesterday and he spent the first 15 minutes of his 1-hour talk contextualizing what he was going to say…Which was a waste of time. Everyone in the audience had plunked down cash to learn what he had to say; no set-up necessary. Literally, he said at one moment, “Let me give you some stats on why this is important even though I probably don’t have to,” at which point I said to myself, “then DON’T.” I started getting antsy and wondered if I could get a refund. He kept saying, “I’m going to show you a system. This system is really going to help you.” Etc. etc. "Argh, then tell us the system already!" I didn't want to know the journey; just where he ended up!

All right, all right, I understand that as a speaker you want to frame up your content and make sure we are all on the same page. But when we come in on the same page, it’s not necessary to keep reiterating it. Maybe just one moment: “We all agree that we need a new marketing plan. Here’s my thoughts about how to do that.” Not, “Marketing plans are crucial to our company’s success. We need one. Study, x, y and z have shown that by…” Argh!!

IF we are not on the same page and/or you want to re-confirm your goals for the talk, establish them, yes. Do it. IF you have some complex and far-reaching ideas, yes, please, contextualize them. Show us how it relates to us. Tell us why we need this. Link it to something we already know and set it up. But also; quickly please.

IF your audience is being forced to listen because it’s their job, (especially one of those day-long conferences) then having some fun in the opening to connect your content to something that they are interested in, is a perfect way to go! Get them primed. Tell them how you will solve whatever problem they have. Or what they will get out of the presentation. Promise them something good. And then just get right in there and give it to them.

I’ve watched and listened to over 10,000 presentations. Over-contextualizing is a bit of an epidemic and a great way to lull your audiences into apathy. If you have an hour, fill up the talk with tons of concrete takeaways and content to take up about 45 minutes. Save the rest of the time for questions, or to poll the audience and find out what they are interested in. Don’t fill it up with boring talk about how you came to your conclusions…unless, again, this a scientific talk in which the process is key. But then that is the talk. Talk the process and lead up to the conclusion. For all the rest,

Bottom line it. Please, for the love of people everywhere, get to the point already.

Seven strategies to overcome nerves

One key to overcoming the fear response related to public speaking is to distract yourself so that you don’t obsess on your nerves. Remember, “where your focus goes, energy flows.” Here are some things that I recommend to do in the minutes prior to a presentation:

1. Focus all of your attention on the present speaker—actively listen and take notes.
2. Count the number of floor tiles or how many people are wearing blue (or ties, or pairs of glasses, whatever!) in the room.
3. Remind yourself of your main point or overall message. Don’t try and go over the entire speech in your head, just remind yourself of your main message.
4. Have a private joke for yourself—like the old adage of imagining the audience in their underwear. Come up with something that will make you smile.
5. Try an internal pep-talk: “I’m a brilliant speaker,” “Boy I’m good-lookin’,” “Everyone loves me!” (if it makes you smile, then it’s good.)
6. Do a breathing exercise: count your inhales and exhales. Count the length of each exhalation.
7. Tighten and relax muscles in your body. Focus on your feet: clench your toes for a few seconds and then let them relax. Tighten your calf muscles and relax. Take an internal inventory and find your tense spots—if you can do it without other people noticing, tense and relax that area.

How to speak with confidence every time you present

 Speak Wells

Speak Wells

If you have some nerves - try these strategies to gain confidence.

1. Use your outline—that’s why you’ve brought it with you.
2. Cheat a bit and read your slides (being careful not to turn your back to your audience.)
3. If your legs are shaking–walk. Cross to the other side of the room.
4. Find friendly faces and deliver your presentation to them.
5. The more nervous you feel, the taller you should stand. Condition yourself to stand tall and look your audience in the eyes, even when you’re scared to death
6. Make sure that the people in the back of the room can hear your message—speak up!
7. Feel like your arms are flailing? Gently clasp them at your waist.
8. Can’t catch your breath? – cough.
9. Hands are shaking? Don’t hold flimsy paper that will show the shakes—stick to note cards or nothing at all.
10. Breathe.
11. Pause to let your points “land.” Your audience is hearing this information for the first time, so give them time to absorb what you’re saying. While you’re pausing, take another breath.
12. Use pictures to remind you of your main points.
13. Lose yourself in your material—you believe your message, right? Well, let it show and have some conviction!

Does hypnosis work?

Yes, yes it does. Can everyone be hypnotized? Why yes, yes they can, if they want to.

Here's the thing, hypnosis is not a zombie like state wherein you walk around saying, "Yes, master" and do the bidding of your hypnotist ala Scooby Doo. It's not like that...unless you want it to be...

Hypnosis is more like guided meditation. You are in a relaxed state and therefore more open to your hyper intelligent internal guru called: the subconscious. No one can make you do anything you don't want to do through hypnosis, but we can help you commit to what you actually want to do.

Typically people seek out hypnosis because there is an incongruency between their actions and desires, like to quit smoking. They consciously want to quit, they really, really do; yet they keep lighting up. Why? Why? Because somewhere tucked away in their unconscious minds, they want to keep smoking. They are getting something good out of it. They aren't broken or without willpower - their unconscious brain is in control and it wants to keep on smoking.

When you are in a hypnotic state you have more direct access to the unconscious mind and can figure out how you can keep it satisfied with a new behavior. A new way of being that is right for you that creates congruency. Instead of smoking, you'll do something else, or nothing - whatever your internal guru comes up for you.

What are the good things you are getting out of being afraid of public speaking? What are the benefits of avoiding putting yourself out there and saying what you want to say?

How to capture a room's attention and never let go

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Have you ever met someone new and you just instantly liked him. You felt like he got you and you just wanted to hang out with him all the time. He made you feel smart, interesting and special. He was totally into you. And only you.

That's what your audiences want, too. So do some of these:

  • Talk about what they are into. What lights them up? What is interesting to them and what do they need to know. They will love you for it.
  • Say, "you" a lot. Not "I" or even "we," but YOU. Yes, you, that is all I'm interested in. Okay, "we" can work, too. But mostly, you.
  • Look them in eyes. Right in those eyes. It should be as if you're saying, "Yes, I'm talking to you, even though there are 300 other people in the room. I only have eyes for you." In order to do that for 300 people, (something Bill Clinton mastered) you need to pick out a few people and look at them for at least 3 seconds each. Don't scan the room, lock in and hold for 3 to 5 seconds, then move on to another pair.
  • Use brain-to-brain coupling. When you tell a story or anecdote your brain syncs up with your audience. This is the science behind the phenomena of connection. Read more here: