I was talking to a gentleman the other night who, in addition to being an executive at a large corporation and a former figure skater, is also a public speaker. We found ourselves agreeing about the power and the necessity of silence when speaking to hundreds of strangers. If you ask a question, you must allow a pause for your audience to consider their own answer; if you make a point, you must pause to allow your audience to absorb it.
How tempting to fill the room with your words, as if any pause is an opportunity for your audience to escape your thrall. There is, after all, a certain deadly kind of restless silence that any public speaker, including authors on a book tour, comes to dread. It is the silence of an audience waiting for something else, preferably the end of the lecture. I have known such silences, and at those moments I understand why comedians say that when a show goes well they’ve killed, and when it goes very poorly they have died.
It’s brutal-sounding language, but accurate, I think, because to succeed as a public speaker, or as a writer, I must allow something to die within me so that I can become transparent enough to allow through what wants to come through. I can’t stand guard at the gates of my mind screening every word or thought to protect some idea of my public image. The image must die, at least for that hour or two that I’m trying to share something.
And if I can succeed, the audience might experience their own gentle death as well. I have sat in darkened theaters and known that death. Some speaker or actor or singer took me to a place where I could forget what I was afraid of and what I needed to protect, where I could forget how old I was and how long I had left to live, where I could forget what I’ve done and what I haven’t done, where I could forget all that was wrong with the world and my life and remember who I was.
Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.