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Presentation Skills

Five Ways to Streamline Your Presentations

By John Millen

I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.         
                                — Mark Twain

We know that everyone is distracted beyond belief. When I’m giving a speech and talking about distraction, I see a room full of knowing smiles and nodding heads. 
 
There is a good reason for that. It’s estimated that we are exposed to some five thousand marketing messages a day. Our phones constantly beg for attention. We have endless emails, texts, and social media notifications.
  
And the pace of business and life is faster than ever. The 24/7 news cycle. Working through worldwide time zones.

One. Word. Texts.
This has meant people communicate in increasingly short messages. 280 characters. Five-second sound bites. One. Word. Texts. Or just an emoji. ;-)
 
All of this means that we are awash in information.
 
Despite all this distraction, there are times we are held captive and must pay attention or seem to pay attention — and that’s at work. We go to meetings — little meetings, larger meetings, and even convention-size meetings. If you’ve sat through a seemingly endless presentation, you know how that feels.

Focus your messages 
All of this distraction means it’s more important than ever that we focus our messages to be as clear and concise as possible.
 
As subject-matter experts, our biggest job isn’t knowing what to say, it’s knowing what not to say. We have an obligation to cut the clutter and focus on what people really need to know.
 
But this is hard work. We can take the lazy way out and do a data dump. That’s easy just put up a huge deck of dense PowerPoint slides covered with words and numbers. Just stand there and talk, and keep talking until they get it.
 
That might have been okay in an earlier time. But today, less is more.

In fact, less has always been more. That’s why President Lincoln’s 282-word Gettysburg address still retains its power.
 
Engage and influence
People are more likely to be engaged, enlightened, and influenced if you give them less information but with more meaning.
 
You don’t have to be perfect. No one misses what they didn't know was coming. Unless you printed out a transcript, they don't know what you were going to say. When I’m working on a presentation with a leader, I often have to tell them to stop trying to squeeze ten pounds of sugar into a five-pound bag.
 
I've been guilty of this myself. In trying to give workshop participants maximum value, I have sometimes sped up to cover every section rather than leave some techniques for another day.
 
We all need to be part of the solution and give people less information and more understanding.
 
Here are five ideas for you to streamline your presentations:

1) When planning your presentation, think in terms of ideas. Decide on your major message, the one thing you want people to remember, and think of three ideas or points that support that message. Then build on those three ideas with one-liners, a meaningful statistic, or a story.

2) Take your slide deck and reduce the number of slides by half. Then remove half of the words on each slide. Force yourself to be clear and concise about your ideas. We think we can multitask, but we can’t. If you have a lot of words on your slides, your audience will be reading them and not listening to you. We can’t truly do both.

3) Consider not using slides at all. People are there to hear from you. Your slides should only support your points. Having no slides will mean they are fully focused on you and your message.

4) Cut the time of your talk in half. Instead, use the extra time for questions, or just let people go. Nobody complains about a presentation that ends early. “That presentation was way too short,” said no one. Ever.

This applies whether you are a CEO doing a presentation or a frontline sales manager.

5) Boil your presentation down to key words that you can write on an index card. I call this a “confidence card.” You will know that the brief card is there if you need it, but you’ll be better off without it. Just speak from your heart.

Bonus tip: tell stories. As human beings, we are hardwired for storytelling. Instead of presenting a lot of data, try telling a story that makes your point. Stories are more engaging, persuasive, and memorable. Create your own story bank and your presentations will be much more memorable.
 
Following these and similar approaches will allow you to use less information with more impact. You get the idea. Think about paring back the amount of clutter you put out in the world.

Find the gems and give those as gifts to the people you reach. They'll appreciate it because today, truly, less is more.

I'd love to hear your feedback! To share your thoughts with me you can visit my contact page.

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John

Alex Trebek's Inspiring Cancer Fight 

It’s about focusing on the fight, not the fright.

― Robin Roberts, Anchor,
ABC’s Good Morning America

 
As a long-term viewer of Jeopardy!, the popular television quiz show, I was saddened when I heard news that its host Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. 
 
My grief was not only centered on losing Trebek, who has hosted Jeopardy! for thirty-five years, but by the reminder that all of us have been touched in some way by the insidious disease of cancer.
 
I lost my mother, who raised me by herself, to pancreatic cancer many years ago. As I learned first-hand, this form of cancer is particularly swift and deadly.
 
These emotions were with me as I viewed Trebek’s video announcement. (You can watch at the end of this article in case you haven’t seen it.)
 
As a CEO communication coach, I watched Trebek’s announcement in amazement. His message is warm, personal, encouraging, even uplifting. I've worked with senior leaders on dealing with similar personal messages. It's not easy.
 
Trebek’s approach provides lessons for leaders and all of us on communicating difficult, especially health-related, news:
 
Get ahead of the story
The legendary game-show host said he was sharing the news himself. In line with the show’s "longtime policy of being open and transparent with our Jeopardy! fan base,” Trebek said, “I also wanted to prevent you from reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health. Therefore, I wanted to be the one to pass on this information.”
 
Trebek is right. You have the opportunity to tell your story. If you don’t, others will fill the vacuum with rumors and misinformation. Of course, you also have the right to complete privacy.
 
Be as transparent as feels comfortable
There was a time when cancer was the “C-word,” never mentioned publicly. People were loath to disclose that they had the disease for fear of being virtually shunned.
 
Thankfully, that has changed. People are more open about a diagnosis, which gives others the opportunity to give much-needed support. You should disclose as much or as little as makes you comfortable.
 

Tracy Austin John Millen.jpg


Tracy was a great speaker and leader in Toastmasters, where we met years earlier.
I visited him at a meeting shortly after his diagnosis.

 
When my friend Tracy Austin, who passed away nearly two years ago, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he decided to be completely transparent about the highs and extreme lows of his battle. As I wrote at the time:
 
When Tracy shared his diagnosis, he and his wife and soul mate Karen committed to being open and transparent through their journey. On Facebook, they’ve intimately shared their pain, their joy, their fears, and their love.
 
They challenged thousands of us to live our lives with awareness, gratitude, and love. A community of support has surrounded them, with continuous prayers, positive energy, and daily visits and support. People have worn name tags in support of Tracy. #TeamTracy
 
As he went through some fifteen rounds of wrenching chemo, Tracy maintained his positive attitude, thanking his doctors and nurses for their support, and supporting other patients. 

 
You can read more of this at Tracy Austin: a Legacy of Love.
 
Be yourself
Working with senior leaders, I focus on the elements that influence peoples’ perception of your message: your words, your tone, and your attitude.
 
A health diagnosis is the ultimate opportunity to be authentic and share yourself.
 
As you will note from his video, Trebek maintains his show demeanor, which presumably is close to who he is, and even uses humor to diffuse the tension of his message for his fans.
 
"I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease," he said. "Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years!"
 
Let people support you
It may feel awkward asking for support, but you are doing people a favor. As human beings, it’s in our nature to offer support to others in need. 
 
Trebek asks for support and ends on a note of hope. “Normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working,” he says. 
 
Trebek cites the statistic that fifty thousand people in the United States are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, adding that, “with the love and support of my family and friends, and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease... So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you.”
 
I’m keeping the faith with Alex and with everyone touched by the scourge of cancer. We are with you and look forward to the day when cancer is permanently defeated. 

Click below to watch Alex's message:
 

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John

How to Talk Like TED

By John Millen

Ted has changed everything about presentations.
 
You probably know that I’m not talking about a guy named “Ted.” I’m referring to TED Talks, which are given at TED-sanctioned events around the world. 
 
The original TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a conference that has been held annually since 1990.

Talks have been given by a wide array of world leaders, including presidents and prime ministers such as Bill Clinton and David Cameron and big thinkers such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the late Stephen Hawking. They also featured artists, musicians, surgeons, and every other conceivable endeavor.
 
No matter their stature in the world, all of the leaders’ talks have one thing in common: they are restricted to eighteen minutes in length.
 

One of the TED Talks I most frequently recommend to clients is Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are by Dr. Amy Cuddy, pictured in this photo.

Here are some TED-style strategies for developing and presenting your talk. As you read these tips, bear in mind that you can apply them to any of your meetings, from a convention speech to a one-on-one sales presentation.
 
Don’t give a presentation. Have a conversation with your audience. Presentation-mode means you’re giving a performance. A conversation means you are listening and responding to the needs of your audience in real time. You are present in the moment. 
 
Focus on conveying a single idea. Your talk is not a readout, and it’s not a data dump. It’s the opportunity to convey an idea into the minds of your audience, whether they be employees, investors, donors, or others. 
 
In his book, TED Talks, the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson, whose title is the Head of TED, writes, “The central thesis of this book is that anyone who has an idea worth sharing is capable of giving a powerful talk.” Indeed, TED’s tagline is “Ideas Worth Sharing.”
 
Less is more. An eighteen-minute window is more than adequate to share your core idea. This is true of most any meeting or conference call. We live in a distracted world. Fight the urge to go deep and fill a five-pound bag with ten pounds of sugar. 
 
Here’s a sample format you can follow to give your own TED-style talk. With this structure, your eighteen minutes could be distributed like this: 
 
3 minutes – Story relevant to your main idea
3 minutes – Intro of your main idea and three key points
9 minutes – Three key points/stories developed (three minutes each) 
3 minutes – Close and call to action
 
Simple slides. As you develop slides, consider using only a few slides to keep the attention on you and your talk. Also, consider using images, rather than words and numbers, to support your talk.
 
Tell your story. Human beings are wired for storytelling and story-listening. Your talk will be best conveyed with a few stories illustrating your key points. The best stories have emotional resonance and a relevant tie-in or lesson learned. You can use stories from your personal and business lives.
 
Connect with purpose. By starting with why, the purpose of adopting your idea, you’ll be tapping into the power of meaning to inspire action. Telling stories connected with purpose adds additional impact to your talk.
 
Talk with your hands. As humans, we become more engaged watching people with open gestures and body language. A team led by researcher Vanessa Van Edwards studied why some TED Talks go viral, while others don’t. 
 
The team reviewed hundreds of hours of TED Talks searching for differences in the most and least watched talks. They analyzed hand gestures, vocal variety, smiling, and body movement.
 
Edwards’ team concluded that speakers who used the most hand gestures had the most views. “The most popular talks used an average of 465 hand gesture (yes, our coders counted every single one). The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures. And TED superstars Temple Grandin, Simon Sinek, and Jane McGonigal topped the charts with more than six-hundred hand gestures in just eighteen minutes.”
 
And it’s not only good for presentations. Edwards also notes that thirty years ago, researchers found that job candidates who used more hand gestures were more likely to win the job.
 
Call to action. As you develop your talk, think about what you want people to know, feel, and do. What beliefs, actions, or behaviors are you trying to inspire?

Your call to action can be as simple as asking them to think about your customers in a new way.
 
Today, there are thousands of TED Talks on every conceivable topic. I have a few highly disciplined clients who start or end their days with one TED Talk for motivation and inspiration. 
 
I recommend you visit the TED Talk site and think about how you might use this process to improve your own talks. You’ll find everything about your day-to-day communication will become easier and more natural.
 
So give it a try. Talk like Ted. 

John

One of the TED Talks I most frequently recommend to clients is Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are by Dr. Amy Cuddy, pictured in this photo.

Photo Credit: www.Ted.com


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Most Important Factor in Successful Presentations 

“It’s better to sweat in practice than to bleed in battle.”

 -- Ancient Proverb

 

Any professional who expects to excel at an activity must take it seriously. This is why:
 

•    Elite athletes condition themselves and practice their sport endlessly, picking up thousands of reps to build muscle memory.
 

•    Special Operations forces train on the same few actions relentlessly, often thousands of times to ingrain their instant reactions.
 

•    Emergency room doctors go deep in crisis medical training to deal with an unending line of unexpected traumas.


High-Stakes Presentations

While giving business presentations is not nearly as critical or heroic as these professions, leaders have a lot on the line with important speaking events. The ability to communicate is often the one factor that makes or breaks their careers. 


And given the stress and anxiety that many people feel during high-stakes presentations, they might actually have the feeling of life or death situations.


That’s why it’s surprising that, when it comes to giving presentations, a remarkable number of business leaders put their communications off until the last minute and will rehearse little, if at all.


Rehearsal Most Important Factor

This is sad because, in my experience over the past 20 years, rehearsal is the most important factor in building confidence, reducing anxiety and delivering successful presentations.


Working on CEO presentations and with other senior leaders, some will say that they don’t want to rehearse because it will reduce their spontaneity, being in the moment with the audience. This is a myth. 


The fact is that the more you prepare, the more you rehearse, the more spontaneous you can be. The leaders you see who seem the most spontaneous in their talks are generally those who have done the most preparation -- and specifically the most rehearsal of their material. It allows them to speak from their hearts as leaders.


When I wrote about the importance of preparation, one of our readers, the General Counsel of a Fortune 500, wrote back about how she handles rehearsals: “My rule of thumb is to rehearse the remarks at least three times. If you can do that, you will be familiar enough with your remarks that you can navigate them effectively and genuinely.” And, she added, “Obviously, the more significant the presentation, the more rehearsal.”

Here are a few recommendations for making the most of your rehearsal time:


Rehearse Out Loud
I have far too many clients who tell me that they did rehearse their presentation -- that they’ve been thinking about it over and over in their minds. I quickly dissuade them of the notion that they’ve rehearsed.


This is the rule: It is not rehearsal unless the words come out of your mouth.


Video Record Yourself
Seeing yourself give your presentation can be extremely enlightening. The General Counsel I mentioned had also written about the importance of this: “I advise folks to be videotaped whenever they can. As difficult as it is to watch yourself on tape, I think it is the single most effective educational tool there is for public speaking.”  I agree with her 100 percent.


Today, there is no excuse. You have a smartphone ready to record you in HD. If you can go to the actual room where you’ll present, then do so. Deliver your presentation, as you will that day; talk the way you’ll talk; walk the way you’ll walk; stand and deliver.


If you can’t get the actual room, set up some environment that closely resembles the space. Turn on the camera and go through your paces.


Stop Talking to the Mirror
I know a lot of people like to rehearse looking at themselves in the mirror. I recommend against this because we can't actually do two things at once: you can't give your presentation and evaluate yourself at the same time. You're constantly switching back and forth. In a way, I think it's like trying to tickle yourself. It's not that effective. ;-) 

Having said that, if rehearsing in the mirror is what you've done all of your life and it makes you feel confident, then continue. Just add in videotaping yourself as well and see which works best for you.

Audio Record Yourself
If for some reason you’d rather not see yourself on video, at least make an audio recording of yourself delivering your presentation. Listen for what you think are your challenges, but with limited time, pay particular attention to your vocal energy, your pace, and where you stumble in transition. These are high-value targets, when you’re time crunched.


Use Your Drive Time
If you have a commute, it can be a great time to practice your speech. Give it out loud as you drive. Breathe deeply and project your voice as loud as you want. Try saying certain phrases with different emphasis. I have a business leader client who was a singer in a garage rock band. He likes to sing his speeches in the car as a way of practicing. That’s got to be fun to see on the freeway.


You can also spend your time in the car listening to an audio recording of yourself on your phone. That recording could be of you delivering the speech, or of you reading your presentation. This will help you reinforce your lines, building your mental muscle memory.

Over the years, I’ve tested messaging with focus groups, a few people representative of the larger target population.


Deliver to a Focus Group

You can do the same thing with your presentation. Why not gather a few of the people who will be the audience for your delivery, especially if you’re using new material. 


I’ve done this myself before major new presentations. I ask them to come listen to my talk and we have lunch brought in for everyone. 


Instead of having hundreds of people, I’m presenting to 5 to 10 people around the boardroom table. I give my talk and use my slides in exactly the way I intend to on the Big Day. 


Then I ask for specific feedback, with substantive questions like “What is the main message?” “What am I asking you to do (call to action)?” “Did you feel any specific emotion during the talk?” “Do you remember any stories?” Then I’ll ask for one positive comment and one challenge that I could improve on. 


Sometimes with a group of people, I’ll actually put together one page of questions like this, so that they will feel more comfortable answering and they won’t influence each other with group think.


This helps a lot because you’ll get feedback to improve your presentation and you’ll also feel more confident because you’ll already have given the talk to the audience, just in a smaller setting.


Put it on the Calendar
Finally, and possibly most important, schedule your rehearsal. As you know, anything that is critical has to go on the calendar, or it will never happen.


Make communications a priority. With deliberate rehearsal, you’ll feel and project confidence as you present yourself and your message to your most important audiences.


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How to Stop Overthinking Things

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” — Tina Fey
 
Working with a group of data scientists a few months ago, I started a workshop with a simple icebreaker exercise that had them name their favorite film and tell a brief line or story from the movie. This is always fun and gets a lot of laughs and insights into people.
 
But on this day, we were about three people in when it broke down. I started getting questions and analysis: “What do movies have to do with data? Shouldn’t we be timing each person? Are you judging these?” and the like. Finally, I said, “Hey, we’re just having fun. You guys are overthinking this.” One guy said, “Duh, that’s we do!” That got a good laugh.
 
While it’s true that scientists are professional deepthinkers, I find overthinking is a common problem for many of my clients. 
 
With a world of information at our fingertips and constant demands for our attention, a lot of people get wrapped up in their own heads and become paralyzed by too many choices and fear of making the wrong decision. 
 
Overthinking often impairs your judgment, making it even harder to come to a decision. If you’re a golfer, you know that the longer you think about a short putt, the less likely it is to go in the cup.
 
In our business and personal lives, overthinking often leads to procrastination, frustration, delay, and poor results. 
 


Whether it’s giving a speech, having a difficult conversation with a colleague or making a personal decision, it can be tough to avoid overthinking. With that in mind, here are a few of the best ways to combat overthinking: 
 
Keep it simple
We can frequently overwhelm ourselves by creating too many options or through finding complex solutions to problems. The best solution is most often the simplest one. 
 
Apple is well known for its sleek and elegant design. Steve Jobs explained: “The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”
 
In an era of excess, Jobs’ minimalist approach was radical. He returned to Apple in 1997, when the company was trailing behind Microsoft and sales were down by 30 percent. Jobs reduced Apple’s product lineup by 70 percent, including a focus on building only four Mac computers: a desktop and a laptop, two for consumers and two for professionals.
 
The greater simplicity increased focus and quality, as well as profitability that has led Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. It was a return to Apple’s roots, as its first marketing brochure said in 1977: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
 
Like Apple, think of producing with a minimalist mindset. Find the simplest solution. 
 
Done is better than perfect
“Perfect is the enemy of good,” wrote Voltaire. In our quest for perfection, we can often stop doing something or drop a project because it’s “not good enough.” Perfectionism is a never-ending quest since there is no such thing as “perfect.”
 
When developing a project, it can be tempting to wait to release it or show others until it’s completely“ done.” But unreasonable standards can make it impossible to ever complete.
 
Set a hard deadline
One of author Seth Godin’s famous mantras is “ship it.” It means to set an unwavering deadline for a project and at that point release it out into the world, no matter what. If people come up with additions and other ideas during the process, those are parked in a holding pen for Product 2.0, your next iteration.
 
As Godin writes in Linchpin: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” It’s helpful to remember that few things are final and changes can always be made down the road. 
 
Imagine the best-case scenario
For many of us, fear is the root of overthinking. It holds us in place like a frozen rabbit, as if staying still will keep something bad from happening. 
 
I have a CEO client who likes to say that when people look into the open door of a dark room, they never imagine it’s filled with angels. Our imagination of the future usually paints a negative picture. But most of the terrible things we imagine never happen. Instead of always preparing for the worst-case scenario, we should try to imagine the best possible outcome. What good could happen? 
 
Stay in the moment
Overthinking can cause us to dwell too much in the future, or to rehash the past, instead of staying rooted in the present. By thinking of everything that could happen tomorrow, you take away the opportunity to enjoy today and take action now. 
 
Mindfulness and meditation have become increasingly popular and an accepted antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. A study using MRI scans showed that after a two-month practice of mindfulness, the power of the amygdala, also known as the “fight or flight” center, starts to diminish. 
 
Harvard Business Review explains: “Through repeated mindfulness practice, brain activity is redirected from ancient, reactionary parts of the brain, including the limbic system, to the newest, rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” If you’re intrigued by meditation, two popular apps to try are Headspace and Calm.
 
Adopt a beginner’s mind 
A fresh perspective can help to prevent overthinking. The beginner’s mind or shoshin is a concept that comes from Zen Buddhism. It teaches, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
 
A beginner’s mindset helps us to be more innovative and embrace new ideas while cultivating curiosity. For example, a beginner is more likely to identify a simple solution that “experts” don’t see because our minds are too full. 
 
There is a famous Zen story adapted by John Suler that illustrates this concept:
 
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about all of his theories about Zen Buddhism. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘It's full! No more will go in!’ the professor blurted. ‘This is you,’ the master replied, ‘How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’
 
Likewise, adopting a beginner’s mind, we can become open to simple ideas less burdened by our thoughts and old beliefs.  

Take action
The best antidote to fear and overthinking is action. Take action. Do something. What’s the next action you can take to move closer to your goal?
 
A small step forward is enough to create momentum in a project without triggering perfectionist tendencies. Starting is the hardest part and can cause stress and worry. By taking that first step, you can allow yourself to let go of worries and embrace the journey ahead. Soon momentum kicks in and you're making consistent progress.
 
Again, done is better than perfect and one small step is preferable to standing still. 

What about you? 
 
Are you an overthinker?
 
How do you control overthinking?
 
Is there a way to find a simpler solution to a problem you are facing?
 
I really enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please hit “reply" and we can talk.

How to Use Pauses During Presentations and Other Communication

Working with a group of leaders in Washington DC recently, I had a woman and a man, who I gave the same advice to, but for different reasons:

–– He came across as dominating the room, continuing to talk endlessly, even after he made his key points. He talked so much, it made people tired of listening to him.

–– She was making great points and was very concise. But she sped through her comments breathlessly. It was hard to listen to her words because you almost felt like you wanted to breathe for her.

While I gave each of them deep advice on their individual presentations, on one point I gave the same tip: please pause during your talk. 

Common problem
This is a common problem for my clients. Most of us fear pausing while communicating with others. That's because a pause of three seconds in front of a room full of staring eyes can feel like three hours.

It's a truism that when preparing for an important presentation, meeting or conversation, most of us focus on what we’re going to say. Few of us plan for a pause — the intentional space when we will stop “saying” and, simply, wait.
 
This is critical because what you don't say can be as important, or more important, than what you say.
 
This is the art of the pause.
 
Artists, graphic designers, and interior designers call this “negative space.” That’s the space that is not filled in a painting, for instance, that gives emphasis to the person or object that is the focal point.
 
Songwriters, too, use a rest — a beat or two of silence — to draw in the listener and to create a sense of anticipation for what comes next.
 
The same is true in your communication: when you strategically pause you give emphasis to what you do say.
 
Effective listening
I’ve stressed the importance of listening and pauses are a critical underpinning of effective listening. If you’re purposely pausing, you’re either giving others the chance to fully understand what you said, or you’re giving them the opportunity to speak so that you can listen to them.
 
I know this advice runs counter to your instincts. When you’re nervous, you often don’t want to stop talking. You’re thinking, “Let’s get this over so I can sit down and breathe again.” Any pause can be frightening. It can seem like an eternity.
 
Trouble is, we have a natural tendency to want to fill the gap — to keep talking.

Human Instinct
I do a lot of executive media training and I warn leaders about reporters using this human instinct to lure people into giving answers they normally wouldn’t dream of saying.
 
I warn them, when doing a media interview, to avoid giving in to the temptation of filling in the gap when they finish answering a reporter’s question.
 
It goes like this: a reporter will ask you a question, you answer it, and the reporter remains quiet, looking at you. Most people will think, “maybe I didn’t give the right answer, maybe she expects me to say more,” and they’ll keep talking. In fact, many people will start to modify their answers to find something acceptable to the reporter.
 
This gives power to the reporter and usually ends badly for the executives when they inevitably go way off of their planned messages.
 
Instead, I have the executive smile and ask the reporter, “Do you have any other questions?” The reporter usually will give a knowing smile and move on.
 
You may never do a media interview, but you’ll face similar opportunities to pause for more effective communication. I want to raise your awareness of the importance of creating space in your communication.
 
You’ll start to notice other situations where a pause might help. Here are a few tips for using pauses effectively in varying circumstances:

Presentations  
In your presentations and meetings, think about how you can strategically place pauses in your talks. For instance, to stress the importance of something, make sure to pause. That might seem obvious, but few of us actually put it into play. 

Pausing at an important point lets people soak up the meaning of what you said. If you’re a fast speaker you should also pause.

Stop and take a breath to give people the chance to catch up with you.
 
Your material might also dictate the need for pauses. Too many speakers, particularly in technical fields, will force-feed their audiences with way too much data.
 
The best policy is to carefully limit your data to the most important information and make sure to pause intermittently to ensure your audience understands what you’re saying.
 
Crucial conversations
When you have these heavy talks, maybe when you have to give bad news, it’s important to create space in the conversation. Give the person an opportunity to react and give feedback.  Help them to comprehend the gravity of your words.  

Of course, pauses are extremely useful in everyday conversations when you want someone to open up. It’s your job to create the space for them to hear you and respond or share themselves.

Sales 
The best salespeople know that you need to make your strongest pitch, ask for the sale, and then be quiet. Let the person fill the vacuum. These closers also avoid the rookie mistake of continuing to talk after the person has said “yes.” In business and in life, once you’ve made the sale, stop selling!

You should look for pauses in communication all around you: Are you pausing appropriately?

Watch how people around you operate: Do they pause, or rattle on forever? Consider conversations where you might benefit from creating space.
 
You’ll be an artist. You’ll be practicing the art of the pause.
 
How do you use pauses in your communications?
 
Hit reply and let me know how you employ pauses or if you have a story about pausing to share with me.

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