She said these two words, tilted her head a little, gave a knowing nod, and smiled.
After a while she said it again: “I am.”
And then… a pause.
Well, a long pause.
Wait, this is silence.
Now here’s the thing about silence. Especially when it comes to public speaking.
They are tricky.
They can make you nervous.
They can feel like a waste of time.
An error in judgment.
“Poor thing, must have forgotten the speech!” I thought. And many of the rest.
So to do a favour as a co-speaker on the same stage, I thought of sharing her burden as an act of charity. I sat there and got nervous on behalf of her and started hetting the chills down my spine, clammy palms, and all those familiar feelings we toastmasters are familiar with.
I stole a glance at her again. Clearly, her nerves were of steel.
He smile only widened with every passing moment, and her gaze shifted from one face in the audience to another, then another.
“I am,” I heard her say a third time, and break into a grin.
Is she mad?
“Does that make you uncomfortable,” I heard her ask.
“Does that make you uncomfortable?
By now I was seriously looking at the Emcee waiting for her to call 100.
I looked into her face carefully. She sported a pony tail, and a steady smile.
Which told me she hasn’t forgotten her speech.
In fact, it seemed she knew more than she spoke.
“Do you think my sentence, it is incomplete?” she now held the gaze steady on the first row audience. I saw their eyes sparkle. They seemed to have got it.
“How do you complete that sentence, what do you say: I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a vice president, a teacher?” She coaxed us on: “Who are you?”
Well, it was only now that it dawned on me.
Of that question.
Of that realisation.
As a Distinguished Toastmaster clocking an average of 6 stage-hours a week for several years now, I have long memorised that magic equation. An average human being speaks 100-120 words a minute which leaves you with 600 words as a safety net for your contest entry, and 700 at a stretch. In those many words you got to tell your life’s story, personal anecdote, inspire, perspire, despair. Even crack a joke or two to get the audience on your side. And leave them with takeaway. Check, check, check.
You know what?
That calculation, it’s a trap.
I tell you today, don’t fall for it again.
I understand why we do that.
Of course, the greatest fear is of public speaking.
That we’ll forget our speech?
That we’ll stop in the middle and not know what to say?
That we’ll go silent?
Here I ask you now:
What if you win over that fear?
What if you make friend skiwth success?
Hold its hand and take it with you up the mantel?
Sit with it? Smile?
What if you let silence sit at the heart of your speech?
Have you ever thought of the immense energy that is a silence?
Have you explored it enough, toyed with it, used it like a sword that cuts through the crowd and cacophony that is such that often, like water, you search silence?
I tell you, give it a chance.
Forget that 700 words thumb-rule for a 5-7 minutes of speech.
Know, it is not a race of who says most.
It is an experience, who takes you there.
To your inside.
And often, silence is the only car that flies.
In that zone.
Mozart had said: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
And you’d agree – he knew a thing or two about music. About art.
Public speaking too is a form of art, like music, only if we know to play it well.
Here’s a tip: Tune your speeches with success.
And when it starts to get uncomfortable, know: “I am” is a perfectly complete sentence on its own.
It is uncomfortable, yes, yet complete.
With meaning and experience.
Just, like silence.