Presentation & the singer-songwriter
Kickin’ it with iStockphoto in Japan

When there is no quiet, there can be no loud

We are hard-wired to notice differences in what we perceive, and the range of our perception in terms of what we see and hear, for example, is indeed quite remarkable. Difference is interesting. Perhaps this is why there are few things more boring to us than listening to someone read a speech void of emotion and from behind a lectern. Part of the reason for our boredom is that the dynamic range found in passionate, thoughtful, engaging presentation (or conversation), or the imperfectness but realness of someone speaking extemporaneously with enthusiasm and heart is lost...and our interest wanes.

What got me thinking about this was this great little video below which explains why you may be unhappy with some of the music coming out of your iPod or CD player. This video, by the way, is a good example of simple visuals adding great support to the narration.

As the author says in the video above, the original version of the song with its great dynamic range makes you turn up your volume, and when you do it sounds great. A wimpy dynamic range will result in the loss of all feel in the music as it will lack punch and clarity. Great presentations too make us “turn up the volume” in the sense that we feel engaged, interested, and want to see and hear what comes next. The magic is in knowing what to leave out. There is immense power in the quiet bits and the silent spaces in music and in speech, just as the empty spaces (negative space/white space) in visual forms of expression can make or break the effectiveness of the design.

When there is no quiet, there can be no loud. And where there is no nothing, there can be no something. In what ways, then, can we apply the spirit of “dynamic range” to all aspects of our live presentations?

More on why your CDs may not sound so hot


Jerrell Jobe

Silence, rightly placed, is one of the most powerful elements of a presentation. Wrongly placed, we'll that's a different story. When placed with discernment, (and given the topic) it can often create a sense of something sacred, mystical, spiritual, powerful. As with the musical example often the 'silence' is most effective just before the "punch" or just after the "punch" (as in the case of the drum beats). Though, empathy may help us be atune to these moments during the presentation, there may be ways we can sense the moments before the "big day."

For me this same principle of presenting (quiet/loud) has to be embedded into my very preparation. In the design process, creative inspiration flows most naturally when I allow for times of loud/quiet tension... Intense research, exploring, gathering, etc... then times of quietness... Time for the core of what needs to be said begin to settle, clarify, and take substance. As Doug King said, we must "learn to pause...or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you."

The more quiet/loud tension we allow to be a part of our daily lives and design process, I believe our presentations will inutitively naturally demonstrate this "dynamic range" more authentically.

Eugene N

I have a question - So exactly when is it useful for a presentation to include silence? I read Jerrell's comments on when it's being mystic and sacred, but I'm thinking those don't come very often (At least, not here where I'm presenting in university classes)

How would I go about doing so in my presentations? Any tips? :)

Eugene N

Ach, that was phrased wrong wasn't it? I'm a student, but at every module I take, I usually give one or two "major" presentations at the end of the semester.

The thing is, these are generally of the "present your findings" type - Hardly conducive to some of the best means of presentations I know - and there's that nattering time limit. I'm wondering how I can perhaps work silence, of some sort, into the equation.

I'm a communications major, so I generally present on communication ideas.

Jay R

I think the concept of "dynamic range" can be applied to characters in fictional works, particularly novels and screenplays. Aren't the most interesting characters the ones who have a wide variety of emotions, motivations, and actions? Isn't dialogue most interesting when things are unsaid (i.e. quiet) or when it's a full-out honest confrontation (loud), especially when these quiet or loud moments are placed in just the right amounts in just the right places in the larger composition.

Someone mentioned "The Sopranos" in another comment. The characters of this series are a great example. The mobsters are capable of the most heinous acts, but they are also family guys with commonplace parental and marital concerns. Internally, they range from excessively confident to completely insecure. Isn't that what makes them interesting? We seem to relate to these characters because they share the "commonplace concerns" part of their "dynamic range" with us. Are we then drawn to them with eager eyes because their "dynamic range" stretches far into territory that most of ours does not?

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