Listen to the audio version of this post here.
Maybe you can relate.
It started when the Cubs’ color commentary guy took the night off.
(Don’t worry. You haven’t opened the wrong article or landed on the wrong blog page. It’s me, Catherine, odd as it seems that I’m writing about anything related to sports. Stay with me—you’ll see.)
My friend Cindy Dove and her husband are big Cubs fans. And maybe even bigger fans of broadcaster Jim Deshaies. Because, Cindy says, “He’s good, he’s funny, and he leaves lots of quiet time to simply watch the game.”
The other night, JD wasn’t in the booth.
Play-by-play announcer Jon Sciambi was there as usual. You can’t have a play-by-play guy all alone though. So, Ryne Sandberg and Ryan Dempster joined Sciambi in the booth and talked. And talked and talked and talked … until Cindy and John turned off the sound.
“They were so busy talking amongst themselves that they missed what was going on in the game,” Cindy says. “My ears were tired just hearing them natter on. I simply didn’t care what they were saying and at times spaced out. I just wanted them to shut up.”
It’s not that Cindy wanted “just the facts, Ma’am.” She really enjoys listening to JD’s humor. She loves the color he adds to the game. As she put it, “I simply really missed the quiet space that he brings.”
Ah yes—the quiet space.
Just think of all that we listen to all day long. Presentations that could have—and probably should have—ended sooner. Colleagues yammering in meetings, saying the same thing they’ve said before. And before that. Webinars and conference calls and Zoom meetings.
To say nothing of spouses and kids and TVs blaring at home.
That quiet space, when we can find it, it’s like an oasis, isn’t it?
Cindy’s story reminded me of my radio days.
You know broadcasters will do almost anything to avoid what they call “dead air.” Radio stations literally have alarms that go off if the sound stops. One of the first things a newbie learns is to keep the needle moving, no matter what.
It took me a while to figure out that a pause could be an important part of a news story or a bit with a DJ or a talk show monologue.
It took even longer to be comfortable with those moments of silence, not to reflexively fill them up with “um, uh, like, y’know” or just to race through what I was saying. To keep the needle moving.
Learning to use the power of the pause served me well in radio and continues to now, as I’m speaking in front of audiences in the room or on virtual platforms.
Here’s what I tell my clients.
A pause is the vocal equivalent of white space on a page.
Notice how the spaces between words and sentences and paragraphs help you make sense of what you’re reading. Without them, you’d be looking at a steady stream of letters—you’d have to work to make meaning from them.
When you’re talking, the people listening to you need that same space so they can stay focused on what you’re saying, or at least find their way back if their attention drifts for a moment.
And on the subject of their attention, a strategic pause draws attention to what you want to emphasize. Where you might use bold type, underlining, or italics in writing, that moment of quiet can serve the same purpose vocally. It highlights what comes before and after it.
Pausing conveys confidence too.
Nervous speakers are driven to fill every moment—they give us more information than we need, they repeat themselves, and yes, as Cindy said, they “natter on.”
When you’re at ease with yourself, your audience, and your content, there’s no need to natter.
As I argued to my radio colleagues more than once, “The air is not dead.”
In fact, on the radio, in front of an audience, or at that real-or-virtual conference table…if you’re doing your job well, the air is so alive it’s quivering.
Think about the speaking you do, whatever the context.
How can you bring that quiet space?
How can you make the air quiver?
As always, you can share your thoughts in a comment here.