Public-speaking generates anxiety. Not least in those who are inexperienced at presenting, or managers who have recently acquired a new level of authority. However, linguistic researchers suggest an unlikely tip. When it comes to public-speaking, the power is in the pause.
According to science, managers should focus on when to stop their speech, as much as the words that they are going to use. This works in two ways:
Public-speaking: a Pause for Breath Relieves Anxiety
Firstly, a pause can enable us to take a breath during the delivery of a presentation. This triggers relaxation. When we take the time to take a deep breath this activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. The response allows our heart rates to slow and our blood pressure to fall and this means we physically feel less nervous.
This is important psychologically too. A proposed cause of anxiety is known as the fear-of-fear hypothesis. It suggests that when we detect our own feelings of nervousness, we subconsciously heighten our own fear response. For example, if your voice shakes during your delivery of a speech it is likely to get worse: your mind realises that you are behaving as though you are in a threatening situation and heightens the physical signs of anxiety.
In contrast, by clearing our throats and taking a deep breath, we are more likely to sound relaxed – and this in turn will reinforce our confidence.
For an added boost, there are also steps you can take to boost the charisma of your delivery.
Public-speaking: a Pause Helps Others to Process Your Message
Linguistic research suggests pauses benefit others too. Our audience needs time to process our message. A study from the University of Gothenburg confirmed that sentences were more easily understood when the information was delivered with natural pauses. The magic number? It is said that a break in a sentence of half a second benefits neuro-linguistic processing the most.
To boost understanding even further when using slides, stand on the same side of your slides as your audience’s direction of reading. This helps boost processing fluency. In practice, in the West this means managers should stand to the left of their presentations so that their speech is in line with any words that are on a screen beside them.
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