The silence that sounded round the world

As a speaker, how do you make your audience think? I mean – really think. Think about nothing but your message and its implications.

Eighteen year-old Emma Gonzalez showed us how, yesterday. Emma was one of the speakers in Washington, at the student-inspired ‘March for Our Lives’ anti-gun violence rally.

Like many of the speakers, Emma – a survivor of the Parkland, Florida school shooting – delivered passion, and commitment, and a heart-felt message. But Emma used something else, as well. She used silence. A silence that lasted so long, it was uncomfortable – as it was meant to be.

Emma Gonzalez stood on stage for just over six minutes and 20 seconds – the length of time it took the gunman at Parkland to kill 17 of her fellow-students.

She began by listing those 17 names… and reminding the audience of the everyday things they would never do again. “My friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice. Aaron Feis would never call Kira, ‘Miss Sunshine.’ Helena Ramsey would never hang out after school with Max”.

Seventeen times she repeated ‘would never’… drilling the finality of the deaths into the hearts and minds of the audience.

And then, having made the victims more than statistics, Emma made the bold move that really challenged the audience to focus on the problem of gun violence.

She stood in silence, tears running down her cheeks, eyes straight ahead, unflinchingly facing the audience, for 4 minutes and 25 seconds.

She never moved, even when some in the audience broke into a chant, even when some cried out “I love you Emma”, even when someone touched her on the shoulder. She maintain her pause – and her poise. The power of that pause shook Washington, and reverberated around the world in newscasts and on social media.

Eventually the audience settled down and reflected. Then Emma’s timer went off. Six minutes and 23 seconds, she reminded the audience. That’s all it took. She ended by giving the audience their call to action. “Fight for your lives, before it’s somebody else’s job.”

The simplicity, the brevity, the gripping call-out, the call-to-action and the raw emotion of this speech made it memorable. The courage to stand silent for more than four minutes made it unforgettable.

Stop writing; start talking

Download our free "Ace That Presentation" White Paper for sure-fire tips on more effective presentations.