The Power of Silence in Podcasting

There’s a lot that happens in a podcast: stories; laughter; tears; music; different voices; strange noises; on location recordings; pre-recordings; phone calls; Skype calls; and I’ve even heard calls of nature being answered. It’s a free for all. You can swear, you can talk for 4 hours about how many holes the perfect button should have, you can release a podcast everyday and tell everyone how much money you make from it. Anything you want. Part of the beauty of the medium is this freedom.

But there’s something else you can easily do that can really engage your audience.  You can shut up.

Ssshhhh.

Just for a second. I’m not telling you to go away and get back in your box. I’m just pointing out that silence can be a powerful weapon in your podcast arsenal.

If you’re doing a show and just revealed something incredible, a brief silence following a statement can have as much impact as repeating it, or having a fanfare of trumpets emphasise it. (Note to self: Have more trumpets in my podcasts) If something stuns you into silence, then why not be silent for a moment.

And it’s not just that… remember you are working in a one dimensional medium so beats between words, breaths before sentences all have their own power and impact. Don’t be tempted to “tidy” them up. You want conversations to sound natural and the spaces between words often say as much as the words themselves.

Silence can improve your interview technique as well, as long as you remember that the best interviews are not about the questions.  They are about the answers.  So listen to what your guest is saying and before you automatically leap in with the next question, take a breath, pause for a beat. And if you can bear it, pause a little longer.

It’s a technique often used in police interviews (don’t ask me how I know). You know that phrase “uncomfortable silence”? Well it’s something they use to good effect. People don’t like silence. Normal conversation has a natural rhythm, you talk, I talk, you talk over me, I talk etc. As soon as the other person stops talking it throws them off balance. And that’s when the juicy stuff can come out.

The main issue is, people aren’t used to it. Therefore they are afraid of these conversational gaps and rush to fill it with noise, any noise.  A rather extreme example of this can be found in re-runs of British TV show “Banzai” and their celebrity interviewer ‘lady one question’.  The premise was simple, each week she would be on a red carpet somewhere and ask just one question of a celebrity. She would then say nothing and simply continue to nod. The game was to see how long the celebrity would hang around for.

Often they’d give a fairly standard ten second response to her question, and then when she didn’t follow it up with another, they’d elaborate, or repeat part of what they’d already said. With still nothing more coming from Lady One Question, they’d start to panic “That’s it, I haven’t got anything else to say.” “Wanna ask me something else?” And still they’d be met with silence. Occasionally they would feel obligated to give even more because of how uncomfortable they felt. And sometimes they would stay in this strange one sided conversation for several minutes before breaking the social etiquette and walking off.

 

You don’t have to go that far, you just have to hold back for a few moments…

Speaking of which, I’ll shut up now.

“Loved this blog on using silence in #podcasts from Abrupt Audio!”