Silence Speaks

Silence Speaks

By Craig Valentine

On August 21, 1999, at the World Championship of Public Speaking, I stood in front of 2,000 toastmasters for nearly ten seconds without saying a word. Why? Because my speech, “A Key to Fulfillment,” was about the power that taking a few minutes of silence each day can have in our lives, and I was demonstrating silence. Later that morning I sat silently as the following announcement was made: “And the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking is … Craig Valentine.”

Toastmasters International has lifted my life to new heights and has placed me in a position to help many others. It goes well with my mission to “touch lives.” Since the Toastmasters World Championship, I have been asked for advice on the art of public speaking many times. To follow are a few ideas that have significantly enhanced my speeches and can most likely do the same for your speeches.

Power of Silence
Yes, silence is a key practice that I use in my everyday life, but I also use it in speaking. This is because I believe that the way you use silence in a speech is just as important as how you use your words. Dale Carnegie advised that you “pause before and after important ideas.” This lets the idea or statement sink into the minds and hearts of your audience. It allows them to fully digest what you have said before you move on to your next point. In my opinion, the easiest way to lose an audience is to keep talking. Instead, when you use silence at appropriate times, it can say much more than your words.

Tell a Story and Make a Point
On a three-way telephone conversation I had this September with David Brooks (1990 World Champion of Public Speaking) and Mark Brown (1995 World Champion of Public Speaking), we all agreed that the method of telling a story and making a point is an outstanding way make your speech memorable. Here are a couple of my storytelling tips for greater impact:

Personalize your story
When you tell your story in the first person, it helps in two major ways. First, it builds a connection between you and your audience because, as David Brooks says, “Although we all have different stories, we all share the same emotions.” If you can evoke the emotions of the audience, you have made an emotional connection that is extremely important to making an impact as a speaker. Secondly, you gain credibility because (with your story) it is something that you experienced and therefore know better than anyone else. As you know, credibility and making a connection are both essential to successful public speaking.

Add Conflict
Whether person vs. person, or person vs. him/herself, person vs. nature, or so forth, a conflict is essential to a story. Why? It gives the audience an idea of where you are going. Just as most of us will probably not get on a bus that does not display a destination, your audience may not accompany you on your journey unless they have an idea of where you are going. With a conflict, your audience knows you will eventually have to face it, and then do something to transcend it. If done well and with emotion, you can inspire your audience to overcome other obstacles. Back to “touching lives.”

Add Characters
Adding characters to your speech can make it more interesting, more entertaining, and more memorable. It is important to note that characters do not have to take the form of another person. In fact, characters can be inanimate objects that you personify or give human characteristics. For example, in one of my speeches, I have a conversation with a book. The book jumps, yells, looks at me, and acts like a human. This has had a great impact on the speech and people certainly remember it.

Making your point
If your purpose is to motivate your audience in some way (which is usually the case), it is important to transition from your “I” focused story to a “You” focused message. In other words, you should answer the following question that is running through the minds of your audience members: What’s in it for me? If you can answer that question, you have a greater chance of moving members of that audience. Will it give them more confidence, add to their happiness, bring them more wealth, or possibly make them more attractive? What is in it for them?

Chances are you have explained what they should think, feel or do, but now it is time to answer why. In my championship speech I say, “five minutes of silence will give you a peacefulness, a tranquility, a serenity that you have never felt before. Five minutes of silence will give you a confidence exuding from every pore in your being, and five minutes of silence will lead you to feel fulfilled.” That is WHY the audience should take five minutes of silence. That is WHY I take five minutes of silence.

Thank you Toastmasters
As a 10-year old I was once called “Daffy Duck” because of the enormous lisp I had when I spoke. For years after that I concentrated on each word that left my mouth, and I have now turned myself into a public speaker. The better I become as a speaker, the more people seem to listen. Toastmasters has done wonders for my development as a speaker and as a person. If I can win the World Championship, anyone can. After all, believe it or not, that was not even my goal. My mission is to touch lives, and with the help of Toastmasters, I am able to do that more and more each day. Thank you to all of the wonderful toastmasters I have met and continue to meet. I look forward to meeting more of you soon. It is time for my five minutes of silence…

Craig Valentine, the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, is an internationally-known professional speaker, author, and speech coach. Do you want to increase your number of speaking opportunities, maximize each engagement, and become a speaker in high demand? Great! Visit and get a year’s worth of speaking lessons for free.