Be Silent. Be Still.
Do you want or need to get people’s attention? You can get it with volume and movement: yelling and screaming and waving your arms. It’s hard to resist looking, when you hear a sudden squawk from a baby or voices raised in an argument, isn’t it? But then what do you do? The noise gets your attention, but does it keep your attention? Once you get over the shock, you tune out the noise (assuming you can!) and go back to what you were doing.
If you want people to stop and consider what you have to say, if you want to hold their attention and draw them to you, settle down. Don’t be like a squawking baby or an arguing couple. Be silent. Be still. Power and Presence are communicated in silence.
In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane discusses the nonverbals of poise, presence, and charisma. High-confidence, high-status posture is characterized by few movements, she writes. Excessive nodding, fidgeting, or self-pacifying gestures such as wringing hands decrease your ability to convey poise and presence.
Nod all you want when you’re listening or trying to coax a shy person to open up a bit. But if your aim is to communicate confidence, especially in a room full of people, be still.
Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI agent who has written numerous books on body language, says the same thing. He suggests that no matter how stressful or contentious the situation, practice stillness. “The leader who appears unfazed is the person to whom we flock.”
In her third autobiography, Maya Angelou wrote about similar advice she received from her drama coach when she began her singing career:
‘My dear, but you must stand still. Glide out onstage like the Queen Mary slipping out of her berth, reach the piano and then stand absolutely, but absolutely, still. After a few seconds look around at your audience and then, only then, at your pianist. Nod your head to him and then you will begin your music. When he finishes his intro, then you will begin to sing.’
I found standing still the most difficult of all his instructions…
People notice still silence for several reasons:
It demonstrates confidence. We live in a frenetic, noisy society. We hate silence. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. So most people avoid it at all costs. They fill pauses with ums and okays. Or, if they can’t think of anything to say, they figure they better DO something. Or they fill it with distractions. It takes confidence to fill a silence solely with your presence.
It’s different. We’ve lost the ability to simply BE. We’ve forgotten what it’s like. When someone demonstrates the ability to be still and command a room, we notice.
It takes energy. Being quiet and still doesn’t get attention if you’re off in a corner hiding. That’s a great way to become invisible. You must be fully present, willing to be seen, and actively using your energy to fill the space around you. A quiet, BIG presence gets noticed.
Have a presentation coming up? A panel job interview? A meeting with the big boss? Resist the urge to fidget, pace back and forth, nod your head, or chatter endlessly. Get and keep the attention of others and communicate poise through stillness.
Change your communication, change your life.