Presentation Pauses in the King’s Speech

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 2 comments

presentation-pause-kings-speechA pause for thought…

…or more appropriately, a pause for thinking.

Delivering a presentation is a nerve-wracking experience for some at the best of times. Delivering a killer presentation for a critical contract for a multi-million dollar pitch adds a whole new layer of stress and anxiety. It is a very common affliction that I’m sure you will have seen, or may even have experienced, yourself. You may have also seen the Oscar-winning movie, ‘The King’s Speech’; a tour de force of a person’s terror of speaking in public, which is based on the true story of how King George VI managed to overcome his speech impediment.

One of the techniques that King George was coached to use was the application of pauses. Pauses were used to allow him to re-gain his composure and to ultimately deliver one of the most important speeches of his life. His use of this technique helped him enormously. When I coach presenters, I too stress the importance of including pauses, particularly in conjunction with rhetorical questions. It’s a critical component when delivering a killer presentation – not for the presenter’s benefit, but for the audience’s benefit.

This box-office record breaking movie received many plaudits, and deservedly so. I think it is a stunningly brilliant piece of motion picture art; excellent performances, a wonderful screenplay, breath-taking cinema photography, and heart-rending music. A man’s soul tormented by a debilitating fear of public speaking. Yet, it is so common in the real world.

So many people the world over, also suffer from this ‘high anxiety’ (another great movie!) and are looking for ways to master their fears. There were some very interesting techniques that Lionel Logue, the speech therapist, encouraged Bertie to use. Rolling around on the floor, having your nearest and dearest sit on your stomach, and singing your patter to well known songs aren’t quite the techniques that I would encourage though! Lionel did use three techniques that I coach. Rehearsing aloud and not just using your inner voice, imagining that you are presenting to your best friend, and the use of pauses.

Rehearsing in your head is dangerous, as the words that come out of your mouth at the moment of delivery can quite often be different and not sound as harmonious to the meaning of your message. And for your final dress rehearsal, you will feel much more relaxed and natural if you can present to the friendliest audience you can find.

Thirdly, and lastly, use pauses. Pauses are so powerful as they allow the audience time to think about your message. This enables them to process the information and associate it to their world, and to remember it. Pause for your audience to think, to create the new synthesis in their working memory and thereby develop new synapses in their long term memory. They can also help you when you may need to gather your thoughts for a few seconds.

I always feel that if there aren’t any butterflies in my stomach at the beginning of a major pitch, then there is something missing.  We all suffer from an adrenalin rush, but the trick is how you channel that energy.

One last word on ‘The King’s Speech’: please don’t use the other technique that Colin Firth used; silently and repeatedly mouthing a certain four letter expletive. Remember that you are not on the radio, and that your audience can lip read!

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2 Comments to Presentation Pauses in the King’s Speech

  1. #1

    Keith Davis

    6:18 pm, April 12th, 2011

    Pauses are so powerful, but diffucult for those starting out with public speaking.

    Ask a question, and pause, wait for a reply.
    Let your speech be a two way dialogue – let the audience feel involved.

    A great technique but it takes time to master.

    BTW – The Kings Speech is a fantastic film.

  2. #2

    Jessica Pyne

    11:15 pm, April 13th, 2011

    Thanks for the comment, Keith. Good presentation techniques don’t always come easy for those starting out – but it is worth putting in the effort, in order to achieve fantastic results. And yes, the King’s Speech really is a great film!