During a less-than-successful stint selling life insurance, we were trained to "assume the close." That meant we were supposed to say, "Now, while you two decide which of these three plans is best to you, I'll get started on the application. Fred, which state were you born in?"
At that point, my job was to be completely quiet, because, as they told us in training, "whoever speaks first loses."
Now, in my case, those long pauses were usually followed by "We're not interested," but I understand for the more successful agents, it was followed by a date of birth. I stopped selling life insurance a long, long time ago.
But this did open my eyes to a new concept. I had never considered what silence communicates. I mean, how can you communicate anything with the absence of content?
There are two important benefits of silence. First, it communicates your belief in your message. By incorporating segments of silence into your message (and by the way, this includes white space for you designers out there), you let the audience know that your message is compelling enough to be effective without having to communicate every possible message point in your arsenal. (Here's an example: go find a brochure or website for a middle-of-the-road hotel and there's a good chance you'll find a long list of amenities, usually in bullet format, and it will likely include a Color TV, something you find in every hotel room. This is the advertising equivalent of using every bullet you have. Now go see if you can find a Color TV listed as an amenity at a really nice hotel. You probably won't find it because they have confidence in their message. You are more likely to see that white space, though.)
A second benefit is that, in today's hectic, cluttered environment, silence actually helps your message stand out from the crowd. Recently NPR's The Kitchen Sisters were speaking before an audience, many of whom were typing away at their mobile devices. Then, The Kitchen Sisters simply stopped talking for about 30 seconds. Everyone in the audience stopped being distracted and started paying attention. Instead of getting everyone's attention by screaming, they simply shut up and let the silence speak loudly.
Next time you're crafting a communicative message, put some thought into how you can use moments of silence. Be strategic in what you don't say, not just in what you do say. You'll find what you communicate has more impact and is better understood by your audience.
Marta Kagan's "Bonafide Marketing Genius" Blog
Andre Sanders' "Running Without Condition" Blog
Jessica Sneeringer's "Mal-Diction" Blog