Benefits of Silence

Written by Ellie Thien

June 23, 2017


The idea of standing silently in front of your audience likely seems daunting and unnerving. It might just sound easier to whiz through your presentation to get it over as quickly as possible. But as Mark Twain wrote, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Using long pauses and silence effectively can boost your performance and ensure audience engagement. Here are three reasons allowing silence is beneficial to your next presentation:

Catching a Breath

You’ve been talking for a while, your mouth is dry, your heart is pounding, and you’re out of breath. Before you transition to your next point, take a moment of silence. Give yourself a few seconds to take deeps breaths, think about what you’ll say next, and even grab a quick drink of water. This will keep your voice calm and speaking pace slow to help you seem confident in front of your audience.

In this TED Talk, Harry Baker is using speed and run-on sentences to add dramatic effect to his spoken poetry. With that technique, short moments of silence are essential to ensure he can take a breath and keep going. Watch how Baker uses timely pauses to catch a moment to regroup without adding awkwardness to his speech.

Time to Absorb

Don’t worry that your audience will think silence is awkward – they need it too. If you’ve just finished a major point and are ready to transition, a moment of silence allows for all the information to sink in with your listeners. This will ensure they remember your message and understand your takeaway.

Look to Martin Luther King Jr. for examples of effective pauses. In his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King uses moments of silence to let his message settle in before moving on. He knows his words are important and meaningful to his audience and wants to ensure they remember them. Letting your audience reflect on what you just said with a moment of silence can secure that outcome.

Dramatic Effects Are Not Just for Theater

In addition to being helpful for speaker and listener, silence adds a dramatic effect to your speech that will make it more interesting and impactful. Being silent for a few moments can draw in your reader as they anticipate what you’ll say next. It can also create dramatic tension after a rhetorical question or before you drop a critical line. Using silence in this manner will make your presentation more compelling, engaging and memorable.

Need proof? Watch Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone in 2007. He takes purposeful pauses that enhance the drama of his message. Jobs uses 9 seconds of silence at the beginning of his introduction to not only draw in the listener, but also to give himself a chance to breathe and prepare. So take a note from one of the greatest corporate storytellers and let silence reign.