Shut Up and Use One of the Most Powerful Communications Tools 

We at DPK Public Relations appreciated a recent post by Dan Rockwell, "How to Capture the Opportunity in Awkward Silence," from his Leadership Freak blog. It describes the value of leaders allowing silence in the midst of meetings or interviews.

So often, silence in a meeting ratchets up tension and anxiety. It is the third rail of interpersonal communication - touching it can be deadly! However, this negative response to a moment of contemplation can be harmful. It can prompt people to rush and make statements or offer solutions that lack a solid foundation and are ill conceived. 

Right out of college, I worked briefly selling cars. As is the case with many salespersons, we were coached to capitalize on the discomfort created by silence. Make a closing statement and then shut up. We call it a pregnant pause because it is full of expectation. Every tick of the clock feels like an eternity. Everything in social norms screams to fill the void with something - anything!

In sales, silence can be a truth serum. It will prompt a prospect to either reveal the real obstacles standing in the way of the sale or - in a lot of cases - close the sale then and there. Boom!

When I eventually became a journalist I found these same techniques had the same impact on newsmakers. A great interview technique for journalists is to ask a tough question and shut up. The spokesperson responds, and if they are trained they stay on message. That's when the pregnant pause comes into play. The journalist just leaves the microphone there and continues looking the spokesperson in the eye expectantly. 

Tick tock. Tick tock. 

In nanoseconds the tension builds to a point that the spokesperson just can't stand it and breaks the silence.

Typically, that's when even trained spokespersons will go off message. They start spouting all sorts of crazy things. They start speculating. They spread rumors. They disclose confidential information. They throw their peers under the bus. 

All because they were so uncomfortable about a second or two of silence.

In our media training workshops we encourage spokespersons to embrace silence as a valuable communications tool. Silence can make a spokesperson appear thoughtful. Allowing for a second or two of silence after a question is asked makes the response appear well thought out. Embracing silence can add value to the back-and-forth between journalist and spokesperson.

So be ready for the pregnant pause and welcome it. If you complete your statement and the journalist continues to gaze at your expectantly, be disciplined. Don't crack under pressure. Ask if there is anything else. Or better yet, have an anecdote ready that illustrates your points in a personal way.

Ultimately, silence amplifies the power of your words.

Learn more about DPK Public Relations' media interview workshops at Fill out a contact form at or call us at 800.596.8708 to schedule a workshop at your location. Full-day or half-day workshops for up to 10 people generally cost $2,700, making it affordable to train all the spokespersons in your organization.

Photo by Wiros