Verbal White Space: The Importance Of Pausing

Written by Brad Phillips on November 10, 2010 – 7:14 am

I recently helped a client prepare for a major speech at his company’s annual conference.

Before we met, he created a thoughtful presentation highlighting 20 terrific marketing ideas. Since he only had an hour for his talk, he knew he’d have to rush through the material and eliminate audience questions.

As I watched him practice his speech, it became clear to me that his ideas weren’t landing with the impact they deserved. Although the ideas were great, his rapid-fire delivery wasn’t allowing his audience enough time to fully engage with his ideas.

I told him about the graphic design concept of white space, described on Wikipedia as a principle of design that gives the eye a “place to rest,” thus increasing the appeal of a composition through subtle means.

The same concept applies to public speaking. Verbal white space – or a short pause – allows the audience to process your ideas on their terms, meaning you’ve effectively transferred information from speaker to audience. Verbal white space also helps separate ideas from one another, preventing your audience from perceiving 20 distinct ideas as one giant one.

In addition, I suggested that my client break his talk into two breakout sessions. The first might focus on “10 Essential Marketing Ideas,” the second on “10 Advanced Marketing Ideas.” Fewer points, delivered with more verbal white space, have greater impact.

Dividing his talk into two halves would also allow plenty of time for questions, increasing the likelihood that his audience personally engages with his content.

Next time you give a speech, think about the major parts of your talk. Between each one, force yourself to pause for at least two seconds. It may feel like a lifetime to you, but your audience won’t notice. They’ll be far too busy thinking about what you’ve just said.

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