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Public Speaking - Lock, Talk & Pause

Aug 1, 2008
The process that sets you on your way to speaking like the best speakers in the world, speakers who possess The Skills, goes like this: You find a target in your audience and you lock eyeballs. You deliver a complete thought to that one person, and then you do the hardest part, you pause. You pause before turning to the next person, and speak to the next person with your next thought.

Here's a tip to begin the whole process correctly: Whenever you get up to speak, before you ever get out of your chair to come to the front of the room, know which person with whom you're going to begin speaking. Have that person picked out before you get up there. Otherwise, you're going to start off on the wrong foot: you're going to start scanning around for those "friendly faces". Choose the person you're going to deliver your opening line to ahead of time, and begin your talk by looking at that one person and letting it flow.

Let's be clear - one thing you definitely don't want to do is to look for and speak to only a few "friendly faces". That might be advice that works well for the few faces, but what about all the other less than friendly mugs? How do you suppose they feel when they notice that you are engaging other people but not them? Do you suppose it might get them thinking about something other than your message? Do you want a few people buying into what you're saying, or the whole group? Your job, remember, is to look at everyone in the audience. Everyone in the room needs to leave feeling that you took the time to personally engage them as individuals.

If you've been to a speech or a presentation by someone with The Skills, you have no doubt noticed that they did this. In fact, have you ever been to a large event with perhaps hundreds of people and come away feeling that throughout the program the speaker kept coming back to you? That for some reason the speaker picked you out personally for special notice, and repeatedly?

This is perhaps the most powerful advantage you will have with The Skills, but it's also the easiest to acquire, because it happens all by itself! One great thing about The Skills is that they are infinitely scalable. That is, the larger the crowd, the better they work for you, but you don't work any harder. You engage in exactly the same behaviors with twelve people as you do with twelve hundred!

Parallax Universe

The reason is this: thanks to the ways our eyes are built, from distances as short as ten feet, a phenomenon known as parallax kicks in, and for the very same reason we see railroad tracks converge in the distance, our eyes see the other person's eyes converging on ours even when they might be pointed a few feet away. Speakers with The Skills are always only looking directly at one person at a time. But from a short distance, and increasingly with greater distance, people sitting around the person to whom the speaker is actually looking believe the speaker is looking directly at them.

So from, say, fifteen feet away, the four people around the one person you're looking at will feel the benefits of your engaging them as individuals. From thirty feet, twelve people around your target will swear you've singled them out for attention! Your circle of influence keeps getting larger and larger, but you're just doing the exact same thing you'd do in a small conference room. In our classes we enjoy asking the women if they've ever been to a concert where the singer sang directly to them, and we inevitably get at least one response of, "Yes, but how did you know?"

Rock stars know how to create and keep fans, and this skill is a big tool in their box.When you lock on one person, everything else kind of fades away. You focus all of your attention on that one person and nothing else. For the moment, your entire universe is composed of the one person to whom you are directing your one thought. And when you do that, for those three to nine seconds or so, your brain isn't making new threat calculations all the time, trying to get you cranked up, cranked up, cranked up. Everything kind of fades away.

Advantages

Just as when you work from a nice, clean desk, or as when you're given just one task to do, and that's all you have to do, by talking to only one person at a time, it creates a nice, strong point of focus. All of your attention can be given just to this one moment, so that nothing else that's going on affects your brain. Focusing on one person creates an environment that helps you focus on one thought - the thought that you're delivering to that one person.

You're also able to pace yourself. When you learn how to pause, when you learn how to say what you have to say and then stop talking for a moment, move on to the next person and only then begin speaking to them, it helps to create a smooth pace that the audience can follow, and also one that doesn't foul you up.

One of the problems people have when they get up to speak is that, with adrenaline in your veins, your metabolism is elevated. Consequently, your perception of time slows down. You thus tend to speak much more quickly when you're up in front of a group, when our juices are all flowing high. And unfortunately, with your somewhat diminished cognitive ability it's not impossible for your mouth to overrun your brain. You know, you can push the words out so fast that your brain is not be able to replenish the queue quickly enough. And so you do end up finding yourself with nothing to say.

When you find yourself with nothing to say, that can be quite an anxiety-producing situation. It starts cranking up the whole fear juice thing again. The more you get cranked up, the more time slows down. That's one of the reasons most people don't pause. In your slow-motion state, you feel your pauses to be much longer than the length of the pauses your audience hears. But when you've been speaking on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, and then all of a sudden, you just stop, the pause then becomes very, shall we say, pregnant.

By working pauses into your speech from the very beginning, you're able to establish a pace that seems natural to the audience, and will actually mask any moment when you might not be able to think of what to say.
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.
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