How to Pause Effectively in Your Speaking

How to Use the Power of the Pause in Public Speaking

Learning how to use the power of the pause in public speaking can be one of the most effective skills an orator can acquire.

Pausing when giving a speaking presentation? Yes.

Pauses can be so powerful that some even give this advice–when you’ve no idea what to do, just pause and smile. Even if you’ve fully prepared and rehearsed, there are times when your mind will go blank up there. It happens to even the most seasoned of speakers. If and when it happens, just pause. Pausing will give a person authority, whereas stammering or apologizing will do quite the opposite.

It’s said that the North Vietnamese used the power of the pause as a tactic in the Paris peace negotiations. During the talks, they just kept nodding and smiling. They did this until the Americans gave in.

Can pausing really be that powerful?

Our instincts are all wrong. When we get nervous, the first thing we tend to do is speed up. The faster I talk, many assume, the more I’ll appear to have it together. But the opposite is true. Rushing through your presentation is a dead giveaway that you’re edgy, and often gives the impression that you’d rather not be there speaking in the first place. It’s a universal sign of nervousness and lack of confidence to talk in an exaggeratedly hurried manner. It’s the same with those “ah” and “uhm” filler words that many start throwing in. This makes an audience uncomfortable, and can make them feel like they are the cause of your suffering up there behind the microphone. This is a presentation that will not be remembered except for the negative feelings it created.

But this is where the pause can be useful. Instead of rushing to the next point or using that filler word, just pause. The audience will wonder what you’re going to do next. The trick, though, is to stay with your listeners.

But, you may ask, doesn’t pausing make the speaker look like he or she has forgotten what to say or has lost his or her train of thought? The answer: depends on how one goes about it. If you stare at the ceiling or at the floor, then yes, you’ll appear to be trying to gather your thoughts. But if you stay engaged, and that means looking at your audience and staying focused on the message, then pausing will add a dynamic and commanding element to your presentation.

Pausing creates moments of tension, anticipation, or excitement, depending on how they’re utilized. Pausing while presenting gives the impression that the speaker is confident, even if the speaker doesn’t feel that way. If you’re a person who starts talking faster when nervous, pausing can help you relax and catch your breath. Try it–just pause and breathe deeper.

I’ve personally used the Power of the Pause many times and each time I do I’m always a little amazed at how well it works. I like to use pauses right after a question. For example, I’ll ask the crowd, “Do you remember the numbers from last year?” Then I’ll pause and slowly look around. The audience stays with me, waiting for the answer. At those moments, I sometimes have more authority as a speaker then when I’m actually speaking! Most nervous speakers, especially those with less experience, will immediately answer their own question and ruin a nice moment like that. Once I personally discovered how powerful pausing can be, I’ve never gone away from it.

Remember that if anything, pausing allows a speaker to stop and think about what he or she is going to say next. No matter how much you practice and rehearse, there are times when the combination of adrenaline and nervousness makes you forget where you are. Nobody likes it when this happens, but again, it happens to everyone. If and when it does, pausing not only gives you a chance to think about your next thought (and glance at your notes if needed), but it also makes you appear to be in far more control than you may feel at the moment.

Pausing really works — practice it and utilize it.

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Kelly Libatique is a professional speaker, technical trainer, and author. He has a Master’s in Education and a Bachelor’s in Psychology. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and Anne and two sons.

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