I’m just back from my annual “Silent Retreat” at Manresa – an idyllic, serene campus along the Mississippi River. During this 3.5 day event, a group of about 110 men gather, and spend the time in silence. You attend lectures and services as you like (it’s a Jesuit program, however I’m not Catholic), but all the rest of the time, there is no conversation between the retreatants. Not at meals, not walking to/from programs, not during “down time”. Silence reigns.

Which makes the lecture series, each year conducted by a different visiting Jesuit priest, all the more featured for the retreatant audience as it is juxtaposed against the backdrop of this silence. This year, our host was Fr. Vincent A. Giacabazi, SJ and he did a superb job, so I thought I’d share some of his very effective presentation skills here:

  1. Pace. Very underrated skill for public speakers. One of the most common errors of pace is speaking too quickly. Conversely, speakers like lecturers and instructors, can fall into the plodding pace of overly slow speaking. “Father G” was able to deliver his message with marvelous pace, picking up speed where the message merited, and slowing down to emphasize importance or create effect. Mind you, his volume only varied a bit, making the pace that much more apparent
  2. “Titanium Detail”:  Father G. had a remarkable gift for describing events and subject matter with enough detail to help you experience it as if you were seeing it, or holding it in your hand, but never so much to make you wish he’d move on. Details of color, weight, space, texture, sound, are powerful triggers and when treated with the optimum choice words . I think of titanium as the metaphor for detail as it is both strong and lightweight. When providing detail in your talk, you want the words to be strong, but the amount of words to be lightweight. Go for “titanium” detail.  
  3. Pauses. A component of pace but deserving of it’s own bullet, because of the importance. Pauses are difficult for most public speakers (and I see this in my sales presentation coaching all the time), because people are uncomfortable with silence during their presentations. What’s the expression: “Nature hates a vacuum”? But the pause can be powerful, for two key factors:
  1. It gives your audience a moment to process the last bit of information
  2. It provides the space for what follows, and thereby lending it great importance and impact

Father G. was a master of the pause. Quick example (though I won’t do it justice, passing it along in writing, and second hand at that), but here was a memorable pause that delivered. He was describing a gift he received from his mother – a GPS wristwatch. Her intention was to help better prepare him for an upcoming travel experience as part of his Jesuit training. Father G. described both the packaging of the watch and the watch features with wonderful detail (see point #2),  and relayed how his mother watched in anticipation for his reaction as he opened it. Father G., explained, “After I gave my sincerest ‘gee, thanks’ and tried to marvel at it’s wizardry, my mother, who was so excited to give me this amazing watch said

(PAUSE)…

”You hate it, don’t you”.

The eruption of laughter that followed, was largely due to that effective pause, and subsequent deadpan delivery.

Pauses are your impact tools. Use them to help judiciously in your presentations.

It’s good to be back in the land of the speaking once again, and I look forward to re-engaging with you all on several speaking events in the coming months.

Hope you enjoyed these speaking tips from a silent retreat. Happy summer.

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