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It's okay to look at your notes. And it's okay to look at them in silence!

Do you find that hard to believe? Most of us begin this presenting game fearful of our moments of silence. We feel vulnerable. They'll think I've lost my way. They'll think I don't know my stuff. If I'm silent, they'll see that I'm nervous. Aagh! I have lost my way. That's why most speeches are over-seasoned with ums and ahs. As beginners, we can't stand our own silences.

What audiences think

I've got news for you. The audience can't stand wall-to-wall words. They want you to be silent sometimes - if only to allow what you've just been saying to sink in. The audience knows it's completely natural for you to need reminder notes - after all you're not there to demonstrate your perfect recall. And so the silence involved in prompting yourself is also completely natural.

Unless you're embarrassed. Embarrassment makes audiences uncomfortable.

So here's the real issue. Can you change your attitude to silence? Choose to accept that silence (looking at notes, emphasis, intensity, etc) is not a sign of failure. Choose to accept that comfortable silence is not only welcome to the audience, but a sign of credibility and authority. Choose to relax in your silences, just as you would in a one-to-one chat with a friend.(What would your friend say if you spoke for half an hour pausing only for rapid intake of of oxygen.)

Silence is a natural part of communication

Silence is a not only natural, but essential for your credibility - even when it's just you doing the speaking.

Imagine this. You've been discussing something with the audience and want to move on. You say openly, "Now, where was I?", look at your notes in silence, return your gaze warmly to the audience, then begin the next part. They appreciate that you're so comfortable with them. They'll even accept you breaking off to look at your notes in the middle of a sentence, as long as you're relaxed about it. You relax in their company and they will in yours.

Just last week I asked a group of participants what stood out from their presentation skills workshop, and one of them said with a grin, "I just love it that it's okay to shut up and look at my notes."

Absolutely.

Michael

About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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