Trust Tip 45: The Three-Second Rule

Some years ago I got some great coaching from Patricia Fripp about introducing a speech.

“Don’t start with ‘hello, glad to be here’ and all that,” she said. “Instead, start by standing motionless at mid-stage for what will seem like an eternity.”

“Stand still, and wait—until every eye is upon you, wondering whether you’ve gone catatonic from stage-fright. Then launch directly into the first line of your opening story—‘there I was…’ for example.”

I couldn’t imagine doing it.  It felt way too contrived, hokey.  But I had an upcoming speech outside my home country and industry.  I figured, nobody will know me here, time to try it!

The emcee introduced me.  I walked to center stage.  And stood.  And stood.  For an eternity (3 seconds).  The room went silent.  And as the first three words finally came out of my mouth, I realized instantly Fripp was right.

The 3-second rule works in public speaking because it compels our attention. We are fascinated by a speaker who is silent—a bit like the painted statue mimes in tourist cities.

We watch intently to catch the statue-mime in the act of moving.  We listen intently to hear what the silent speaker will say.  3 seconds about does it.

But the 3-second rule is not jus for speaking.  It works in conversations, when you want to draw the other person out, establish dialogue, forge a legitimate connection.

You already know to allow pregnant pauses, let them fill the empty space, don’t give in to your desire to talk. But you feel dumb sitting silently after your client has said something. So, after what you think is a long time, you puncture the discomfort by saying something.  But it wasn’t long enough

Are you really practicing the idea?  Here, “fake it ‘til you make it’ applies.

Try timing someone else in that situation. I find they cave in after about 2 seconds, and begin through body language or direct speaking to puncture the discomfort of silence.

See if you can live in the silence for that last second.  Without moving.  Staring straight at the client.  Not lost in thought, your eyes cast upward, but looking directly into the client’s eyes, awaiting curiously—for real—to hear what they are going to say.

Quietly count, “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand,” while you mentally send a message to the client, “Yes, and please tell me more about that?”

Give it the full 3-count. They’re worth that extra second, aren’t they?