How to have more impact with less words
I am a professional speaking coach. This means I literally make a living teaching people how to speak with clarity, confidence and impact. Think ‘The King’s Speech’ meets ‘My Fair Lady’ but with a lot less post-colonial racism and regional-accent-phobia. Anyway, whilst all that is true, coaching speaking is also the magical art of coaxing the Self to show up in the moment alongside what also wants to emerge in the moment itself.
What we say at any given time is only as good as our state. If we are stressed out our speaking becomes snappy and distracted. Any anxiety flutters through our utterances as hesitancy. When we come alive with excitement so does the speed and vibrancy of our speech.
If you want to have gravitas and impact when speaking you must learn to pause and sense what needs to be said.
Speaking is the act of manifesting your idea, thoughts, feelings and intuitions into the shared moment with other people. It has the power to shape the very reality you are sharing word by word. Consider a time when you were listening to someone speak and then BAM! a word hit you like a hammer. Or those precious words that drop into your heart-world and touch you deeply, nourishing you. Or the single word that turned an argument on its head and opened up dialogue once more.
What we say in any given moment is only as good as our state.
Speaking for resonance is not the same as mouthing off or nervously babbling. It doesn’t overpower or distract. These sounds formed into words are drawn from a deep-sensing to what is emerging, a kinship with your listener, and surrounded in a spaciousness we call pausing.
Pausing is what makes words become meaning. Between each word is a gap, indicating the end of one word and the beginning of the next. But we generally don’t speak in single words, we flow them together to form phrases – thoughts and ideas. Between these units of sense opens up a sacred silence – the sound of meaning landing – “shhhhh” – listen.
Take your mind to an art gallery. As you walk through you see many paintings and sculptures around the room. Beautiful, powerful pieces of art. You stop to look at some for a moment and then move on. As you turn the corner you enter a large room, and pause… There are no windows or distractions of any kind. There is only you and a single piece of art. It has your full attention. It is the empty space around the piece that makes it truly stand out.
Fully aligned speaking emerges in the moment through listening, sensing and responding.
When we speak less and pause more we create these ‘rooms’ for our ideas and utterances. We invite the listener’s full attention onto what we are saying – our intended meaning. Martin Luther King in his speech ‘I Have A Dream’ uses pause with immense flow and power. He frames the magnitude of what he is speaking into with a spaciousness worthy of its importance. The listener is under no doubt that what he is saying is deeply significant and not to be missed.
Another more spontaneous and conversational example is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. Her grace and diplomacy means she never rushes ahead of her own intended meaning. She senses her own response and also the context within which she speaks, representing the New Zealand people, and that guides what she says in the moment.
Both these speakers are sourcing their speaking from what is important to them and the bigger picture at the same time. Uncluttered by the noise of distraction and nervousness. They are both anchored in and connected to their integrity, their audience and the emerging moment.
How To Find Your Pause
Pausing is more than just not speaking. It is a quiet filled with intention and meaning that hangs in the air like a spell-binding-mist. But, I hear you decry, how do I stop people interrupting me!? People will always interrupt, but you can learn to hold many of these interruptions at bay by the quality of your pause.
Speaking about something important is a heightened state. You know when it is important cos you get sweaty, dry mouth, and your heart starts thumping. If you can sit in that intensity and not react chaotically or shrink back it will allow you to stay sensitive to the subtle cues in your awareness. This heightened state is a superpower when harnessed well. Within the heightened state are the whisperings of the moment asking for your voice. Something needs to be said – what is it?
Become used to the sound of your own silence. Make it a familiar friend, one that you can sit with at ease. Silence is often only uncomfortable because we begin to squirm and writhe inside. Fear of judgement creeps in and our inner critic takes over. Now you have no chance of noticing the subtle changes that allow you to respond to the moment with full awareness and integrity,
Learn to slow down your mind and observe what shows up, both internally and in the room. The most powerful way to practice this is through regular meditation. There are so many ways to meditate, and any of them will give you this skill to varying degrees. Even two minutes before an important speaking moment will call in this quality of inner-quiet, but the best effects will be felt when it is familiar to your being.
The state you get from meditation serves two significant pieces of pausing. The first is that it helps you turn down the volume on your internal noise that clutters the intended message. The other is that it enables you to slow down your experience of the moment and stay with the heightened state, picking up on its messages like a plucked string.
This subtle sensitivity to emergence can not be over valued. It is the beating heart of speaking with impact. Remember Martin Luther King and how he spoke with such relevance. His audience hung on his every word. You simply can not be relevant if you are not deeply within the emerging and shared moment.
When it is important we need to say less and pause more. This surrounding silence is like a gilded frame around our intended meaning, placing the listeners attention exactly where we want it.
The other part of pausing when speaking comes from a sense of landing your words into the shared moment. Much like a musician plays the note to add to the overall sound, so too must the speaker add their contribution to the music of conversation and oratory.
Be the Miles Davis or John Lennon of the speaking moment. Value what you want to say and offer it to the listener like a jewel. Even if you are not certain of your point, know that each offering done with this intention is bringing you towards a more certain place. A place of aligned and powerful communication.
This way of speaking moves a conversation from information-sharing into co-creating. It holds open the space for inspiration to jump right in. New ways forward to find their way into stagnant or turbulent waters.
Between silence and speech lies a beautiful place, where meaning is aligned and words are cast like spells into a shared dream. I’ll meet you there…
It is time to say less and pause more. Let’s shift the culture from one of filling silence to holding space for the words needed in that moment to emerge. Transformative and meaningful conversation emerges from two people connecting. Choose a Conversation Culture.
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