Forget the Q's, but Mind Your P's!
Advice from Expert Speakers.
Have you ever witnessed a
speech or presentation where the speaker moved so quickly that you didn't
have chance to absorb the material? Or even worse...to hear the words? He
spent so much time preparing the material...she spent so much time
practicing her speech...and the audience was unable to retain
most of what was said.
There's an old saying, "You should mind your P's and Q's". Well forget about the Q's, but one would be wise to pay close attention to the P's: Pacing and Pausing.
Pacing and pausing can be two of the trickiest skills for a speaker to master. Though they can be tricky, with enough practice even the novice will be using them like a pro. Let's just focus on the pace first since the pause is really just an aspect of the pace.
Your pace, at the most basic level, is the speed of your presentation. However, the pace is not something you set and forget. The pace should be variable, changing as your material changes. If the tone of your material is exciting, your pace may be more rapid, reflecting the excitement. If the tone changes to more somber or serious, the pace should slow down. The pace should also change as the reaction of the audience changes. You should pay close attention to the body language of your audience to see whether they appear interested or distracted. Often, a change in pace will keep them enthralled, or get them back on track.
One of your most powerful tools for
refining the pace of your presentation is the pause. A well-placed pause
can draw your audience in, add impact to major points, and
keep your presentation interesting. For example, if you start your
presentation by asking a question, give the audience a moment to consider
the question, and answer it in their own minds. Two or three seconds is
probably adequate and the effect will be surprising.
The power of the pause can be best illustrated with the use of humor. After a punch line, you need to let the audience laugh. If you don't pause, you may end up stepping on the laughter and losing much of the benefit you would have received from telling the joke in the first place.
In a recent speech contest I experienced thiz first hand...same presentation, same joke, without a pause yielded little or no response. When I gave the presentation at a later time with a pause after the punch line, the result was and audience that roared with laughter.
The effect is most visible with humor, but it also applies to more serious topics. If you give the audience a pause, you will give them a chance to let your point sink in. If the point sinks in, they will be more likely to retain what you have said, and that is one of the main objectives of any presentation.
As with any skill, it is important to practice your pacing. The best way I've found to practice pacing, or any skill for that matter, is to use a video camera to tape the presentation. People often don't realize how quickly they speak, or how rapidly they gloss over major points in their presentation until they see it for themselves.
Back when I first joined Toastmasters, I used to tape every presentation. It never failed to surprise me some of the things I discovered. One thing that I discovered is that a short pause may seem like an eternity while I was standing before my audience, but it was a quick pause to the audience. I felt very uncomfortable and unnatural when I began lengthening the pauses, but when I saw it on tape, I was amazed that I barely paused for a full second. The positive impact the pause made on my presentation was substantial.
Give it a try for your next presentation. Play around with the pace of your delivery. Increase and decrease your pace as your material changes. Try throwing in a few pauses after the major points you've made. Practice the delivery and move the pauses around if necessary. To really see the impact, tape yourself, and/or give your presentation in front of a test group. Mind your P's, and your presentation will appear more professional and polished.
Kevin Richter is an IT Manager for Robert Half International, Inc., and the Vice President of Public Relations for the Tracy Toastmasters. He can be reached through e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (925) 598-5535.
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