Do you want to make an impact with your message?  Do you want to engage your audience? Do you want to project presence?  Then you must learn the power of the pause! It is truly one of the most powerful tools a communicator can use to project presence, command and confidence.  But far too often, a speaker, when making a pitch, a presentation or a keynote speech, sounds like a runaway train. When that happens, you are NOT in control – exactly the opposite of how you wish to appear – and your audience senses it, too. Yes, you may very well be nervous, but without appropriate pauses, you may convey insecurity or a lack of confidence in either yourself or your content.

35% of what we communicate is verbal.  Your words matter, but so too does your delivery.  Mark Twain said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”  

A lot of people are afraid of the silence of a pause and they feel the need to fill the space by either rambling on or using dreaded filler words: “uhm, ah, so, like, you know, basically,”and  etc.  Filler words often come into play as we search for what to say next. How do you stop the filler words from entering your vocabulary? Take a breath and pause. There is power in that brief moment, and it IS just a moment.  It feels like a gigantic amount of time to you, but to your audience, it’s a nano-second!

That silent moment is golden.

Consider your favorite comedian who’s telling a joke, sharing a story or monologue. Think about how they pause… just before delivering the punch line.  They are masters of the power of the pause!

Great speakers and orators are also masters of the dramatic pause.  Adding a dramatic pause can add energy to your remarks that keeps your audience engaged.

Musicians also know the power of the pause – those “rests” or silent moments.  Silent moments are just as important as the notes because they add context and texture to the music.  Music is what happens between the notes.  Austrian classical pianist Arthur Schnabel describes it this way:  “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes? Ah, that is where the art resides!”

When you pause, when you allow the silence to exist, it gives your audience time to absorb what you said.  To reflect. You are allowing your message to resonate within them, to sink in.

The breath, and your subsequent pause, also allows time for you to think about what you want to say next, which ultimately eradicates the need for filler words.  When you allow the power of the pause, your audience will anticipate and lean in to hear what you are going to say next.

How do you improve your pauses?  

  1. Watch videos of speakers and listen specifically for how they use the power of the pause.
  2. Videotape or audio record yourself and pay attention to whether or not you are pausing effectively.
  3. Take any content – a book, a newspaper article – and read it out loud.  Pause for one second every time there is a comma, two seconds every time you end a sentence, and three seconds at the end of a paragraph.  This is unnatural, and not what you will do in real situations, but it will help you learn how to get into the habit of pausing and not be so afraid of the silence.

One of my favorite lines from Maria Shriver’s Commencement Address to USC graduates in 2012 is all about the Power of the Pause: “Pausing allows you to take a beat–  to take a breath in your life. As everyone else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.”  

Perhaps we all need to consider the power of the pause in our lives, too.  

I dare each of you to take a breath. To learn how to pause.  To stop rushing through your remarks. To learn to be in control.  When you learn how to pause effectively, that is how you have impact and engage your audience!  That is how you take your public speaking communication skills from good to great!

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