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7 ways to make time and space for silence

7 ways to make time and space for silence

As we discovered last week, a little bit of silence in your museum and gallery programmes can benefit both you as the facilitator and the audience by promoting reflection, active listening, observation, engagement, and flexibility.

It contributes to a more meaningful and effective experience for all involved. So how can we create more opportunities for silence in our museum and gallery programmes?

Here are 7 easy ways to make time and space for silence.


I believe silence is a superpower that we can leverage to our advantage in the design and facilitation of our museum and gallery programmes. 

Last week I explored why silence matters and shared some insights into why we should be harnessing this superpower to enhance our programmes.

And I also explored the flipside – why some people feel uncomfortable around silence and how you can help participants to overcome this discomfort. 

Today I’m sharing 7 ways you can make time and space for more silence and pause in your programmes.  


When you share any guidelines for the programme in your 4 step introduction , you might want to signal any intentions around pauses and silence. You might want to state what kind of programme this is going to be.

You could explain that there will be intentional pauses or moments of reflection throughout the programme.

Or say that that silence is going to be a natural part of the programme and that it’s okay to have moments of quiet reflection.

Normalise silence as a regular practice rather than something awkward or uncomfortable.

You might want to share some of the benefits around silence for them – for example in promoting relaxation, offering time to think, helping us to recharge and disconnect.


The average wait time after asking a question is around 2-3 seconds. Let that sink in. It’s really not that long.

A short wait time results in shorter or more superficial responses from participants.

Try 3-5 seconds for closed questions and longer – up to 15 seconds – for open-ended questions.

Ask your question and then wait. If necessary, count to 5 in your head before even thinking about saying anything.

Be patient and comfortable with the silence. Give participants a chance to think and then respond. Do not be tempted to go in with a follow up question.

Bear in mind that some participants may feel uncomfortable with silence. This may be caused by social conditioning, fear of judgement or a need for constant stimulation.

You can help to avoid this by setting expectations at the start (see above) that you will be asking participants for thoughtful responses throughout the programme and modelling being happy with silence yourself 


Active listening involves fully focusing on and engaging with the speaker or the environment.

When we actively listen, we refrain from interrupting and judging, or formulating responses in our minds while the speaker is talking. This allows us to truly hear and fully understand what is being communicated.

As an additional bonus, active listening also creates space for moments of silence and pause during the conversation.

Silence and pause are natural parts of active listening. They provide a moment of reflection for the listener to fully absorb and process the information being shared and space for them to formulate a thoughtful response.

Silence can also encourage the speaker to continue sharing and clarifying their thoughts. It creates an environment where both the listener and the speaker can feel heard, respected, and valued.

See here for more information about active listening.


Sprinkle in some silent observation activities.

All artwork and object discussions should start with observation. And some of these can be done silently.

Encourage participants to engage in observation of artworks or objects for a few moments without immediately jumping into discussions or explanations.

Model this yourself as the facilitator: when you arrive at an object, don’t immediately start talking. Say that you’re going to spend a few moments looking at it.

In my How to Look at Art (Slowly) resource I’ve shared over 30 different ways you can structure the observation of an artwork or object. And some of these can be done in silence.

Depending on the type of programme you’re facilitating, you can include some observation activities that are quiet and thoughtful and others that are more talkative or creative.

A few moments of silent looking does wonders to refocus a group that have arrived in a harried, stressed or unfocused way to the museum. Allow them to silently observe and quietly reflect on the piece for a few moments before initiating any discussions or activities related to it. Whilst they are silently looking, you can also look quietly – it gives you time to breathe and relax as well. 

5. Drawing or writing activities that encourage silence or pause

Provide time and space for participants to engage in reflective writing or sketching activities. These don’t have to be huge activities (after all, you could easily fill an hour with a writing or drawing activity itself), but see them as a way of pacing your programme more slowly and offering a chance to pause and do something different than talking.

The act of just writing down your thoughts or feelings in response to an artwork for a minute or two really does reset the atmosphere in the room (especially if everyone has arrived all high energy and scatter-focus).

Mary Hall Surface has some wonderful ideas for how you can use creative writing on your programmes and Karly Allen discusses here how we can use drawing and mindfulness to connect with art. I’ve also shared 3 thinking routines before that you can use in the museum for drawing activities too. 

After experiencing an exhibit or activity, allow participants to quietly jot down their thoughts, observations, or reactions. This can be done individually or in small groups.


 It’s important to create moments throughout your programme when you can pause and allow for some silence. These moments can be built into the sequencing of your stops or activities, giving you an opportunity to observe your group and “take the temperature” of the room. Your participants can work in pairs or small groups answering questions or doing an activity whilst you get a moment to be quiet. You can use this time to regroup, collect your thoughts and engage in a bit of reflection, but you can also use it as a chance to observe your group and ‘take the temperature of the room’. I talk about this in Episode 42, How to Read A Group, but you are basically observing how the group interacts with each other, noting who is talking, who is quiet, who looks enthusiastic, who looks a bit more reluctant whilst you yourself are quiet is a valuable activity to provide insights into the group dynamic. By creating these moments for yourself of silence and observation, you can also identify any shifts in the audience’s attention, sudden changes in the group’s behaviour or their energy level in response to a comment or activity. 


Modelling being comfortable with silence yourself can help others feel more at ease with it. As a facilitator in a museum or gallery programme, if you demonstrate comfort with silence and actively practice it throughout the programme, it can create a positive influence on the participants. When others see you being comfortable with silence, they may also feel more at ease with silence and become more inclined to incorporate it in their own behaviour.

So, in today’s episode we’ve explored the concept of silence as a superpower in museum and gallery programmes. We have learned that silence can enhance our programme design and our facilitation, that it allows for reflection, contemplation, and deeper engagement with art and exhibits.

Last week we identified eight reasons why silence is beneficial for both us as facilitators and for our participants and today we’ve discussed 7 ways you can add more of it to your museum and gallery programmes and use it as a superpower!

How are you going to create more opportunities for silence in your programmes? Which ones of these are you going to implement in your practice?

Sign up with your email address to receive my free resource sharing 30+ different ways that you can look at art or objects slowly in museums. 

It can be used by anyone looking for new ways to engage with what they’re seeing.