Using Silence on Stage to Command Attention

There are two kinds of silence on stage.  Commanding silence, and embarrassing silence.

I probably don’t even have to explain.  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? 

You’ve experienced commanding silence.  The singer is in control, but is choosing not to talk or sing.  He may or may not make eye contact, but whatever he’s doing, he has authority.  If he’s making eye contact, he is doing so with authority, not nervousness.  He is savoring the sense of control as he stretching out the time between comments, or between story lines, or between verse lines, or between song sections.  As an audience member, you are in the palm of his hand.  There may even be music playing… but the singer is choosing not to sing or talk.

You’ve also experienced embarrassing silence.  No one on stage knows what to do, especially the singer.  It’s the time between songs when the band hasn’t started yet, but the singer has nothing to say… and feels like she should.  Or it’s when the singer forgot the lyrics to the next section of the song, the band has dropped down to make room for lyrics, and the singer is flustered.  The audience is uncomfortable and wants to escape. 

As performers, it’s easy to feel like we always have to be “making sound.”  But well-chosen silence can make people really pay attention.

The fear of encountering embarrassing silence can hold us back from using commanding silence to improve our shows.  But once you get used to it, using commanding silence becomes an almost addictive kind of authority.

Try one or more of the following kinds of commanding silence at your next gig:

– During the intro to a ballad, create space (silence) between lines, by staying out of tempo.  Stretch out time, and insert space between lines.  In rehearsal or practice, experiment with how much silence is too much.  (It’s longer than you think.)

– During the spoken introduction of your band late in your show, where you introduce every band member in detail, use a little bit of space here and there between sentences.

– Whenever you talk to the audience, simply slow down.  When nervous, it’s very easy to talk way faster than we think we are.  Inserting a couple seconds of silence between phrases and sentences helps set a more authoritative pace. 

But don’t try these types of silence:

– At the beginning of your set, get on stage and look out at the audience, but don’t say anything.

– After a song that ends suddenly, stay quiet, waiting until the audience figures out it’s time to clap.

– After a song that gets a lame response from the audience, look over everyone’s heads or at the floor or at the drummer until the next song starts.

(Have something ready to say!) 


(c) 2012 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit