Emma Gonzalez: Sound of Silence

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Emma Gonzalez: Sound Of Silence on Wednesday, March 26, 2018.

For the second time in a little over a month, Emma Gonzalez gave a speech that immediately went viral. The first was for what she said in her tearful eulogy for the victims of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where she is a senior; the second for what she didn’t say in her speech at the March for Our Lives gun control rally in Washington D.C, on Saturday.

In the middle of her speech, she stopped speaking for what seemed like an eternity, tears streaming down her face. When she resumed, she told the audience that she was demonstrating the length of time it took for the gunman to kill 17 people.

In just one day, the speech ran up nearly half a million views on YouTube, was excerpted on all the news broadcasts, and made the front pages of all the major publications, all of them lauding her dramatic silence. In The Washington Post, chief theater critic Peter Marks even saw a parallel with Hamlet’s final words, “The rest is silence.”

Silence is a powerful technique to convey emotion. Playwright Harold Pinter’s dramas are noted for large gaps in the dialogue, actors create pregnant pauses, and musicians value the rest beat, the unplayed note. Dizzy Gillespie, the great jazz trumpeter, once said, “It’s taken me most of my life to know which notes not to play.”

Playwrights, actors, and musicians are professionals who have the training and experience to control their pauses, but Emma Gonzalez is only 18 years old, so when she stood up to face hundreds of thousands of people massed in front of her and millions more watching her on broadcast television, she had to experience a huge surge of adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster and produces time warp. For her then, the eternity was compounded—and yet she held the silence.

To fully appreciate the time warp effect, try stopping in the middle of your next speech or presentation and be silent for just ten seconds. You’re sure to feel your stomach drop.

In my previous post about the March for Our LivesI wrote that her pause lasted six minutes and twenty seconds. I was wrong. Her actual pause was four minutes and twenty six seconds; the entire speech was six minutes and twenty seconds, the length of time the shooter was active.

In empathizing with Emma’s emotional expression, I went into time warp.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Emma Gonzalez: Sound Of Silence on Wednesday, March 26, 2018.

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