When Paul Simon wrote of
people talking without speaking
people hearing without listening
he probably did not have the modern business presentation in mind, but I think we’ve all been there, haven’t we? There are often many things wrong with these PowerPoint driven monstrosities, but today I’d like to focus on the easiest lesson we can learn from the best speakers: knowing when to shut up.
The beginning of your speech is the moment of maximum power. Make the most of it. Take your time. Look around the audience. Smile. When you think you can’t wait any longer, wait a bit more. And then some more. When you finally do speak, you will have their undivided attention. So few people have the confidence to do this that those who do have an unassailable advantage. And yet, it’s so simple – no clever thoughts, no witty word-play – just say nothing.
As at the beginning, so at the end. We’ve all seen a good presentation ruined by the speaker who missed his moment to stop. When you reach that moment of maximum impact on your audience, all you have to do is recognize it, shut up and sit down.