I was talking to Helen Calcraft, Chief Exec of MCBD, about making speeches.
I said I could relax and enjoy making a speech once I heard the audience laughing.
Helen said she felt the opposite.
She had trained as an actor.
She felt she really had her audience when they were silent.
I’d never thought of it before, but it made perfect sense.
To her, silence was like white space to an art director.
It created room around what she was saying.
So there was nothing to distract from what she wanted you to pay attention to.
For her, silence was clearing a space.
Have you ever had that?
When someone tells you the opposite of what you’ve always thought but it makes perfect sense?
The philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead said, “Sometimes the opposite of a great truth is another great truth.”
One of the most important creative uses of silence changed the course of history.
It was in 1940, during the Second World War.
France was about to fall to the Germans, and Neville Chamberlain was about to resign as Prime Minister of Great Britain.
He called Winston Churchill and Lord Halifax into his office.
He said, “Well, one of you two will have to replace me. Who’s it going to be?”
Churchill wrote, “I knew no Englishman could ever say ‘Give it to me.’ So whoever spoke first would be the loser. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life, but nothing would induce me to speak.”
Eventually Halifax couldn’t bear it any longer.
He said, “Well, I suppose you’d better give it to Winston.”
Churchill accepted, and became Prime Minister.
Imagine the course of history if Churchill had spoken first.
Less is more.