Here I discuss the power of pause in public speaking, and outline why a genuine, honest pause is so powerful for your presentations.
By Olivia MacDonnell, Confident Speak
So, I could share with you the different techniques and theories in relation to “pause” in public speaking to give your speaking and presenting a sense of performance.
There are many clever pause devices, and some, when used well, are hugely effective.
But I won’t share those just yet.
Very often these “pause” devices complicate and confuse. Today, I want to bring the “power of pause” right back to its core, right back to basics. I want to share with you the value of a genuine, honest pause and its importance for both you and your audience.
What is an Effective Pause in Public Speaking?
First, let’s define what a true, effective speaking pause really is.
Are all pauses in public speaking effective?
The answer is no!
When a presenter is truly connected to their message, truly present with what they are saying, they will pause naturally. A pause always needs to serve the purpose of authentic communication.
The pause serves the presenter if they have a strong intention to communicate something to the audience in an honest way.
To paraphrase Patsy Rodenburg, an effective pause is one that is “full with breath and has your attention on what you are communicating”.
Ineffective pause in public speaking occurs when we pause expecting a response or approval from our listeners. For example, when we pause to wait for a clap, wait for laughter, when we pause as if to say: “Look how dramatic I am!”
Listen to any political speech and you will hear them.
Max Atkinson has written a brilliant, forensic book Our Masters Voices, for the nerds out there (me included!) who like to explore the language, body language and delivery devices of well-known orators.
He dissects these ineffective (needy) pauses brilliantly along with other very cool observations.
A Pause To Breathe (Or “Come up for air!”)
We discuss breath a lot at ConfidentSpeak. What you need to understand is that the breath you take into your body (when you inhale) is the fuel for voice.
If you want to have a strong, resonant, commanding voice then you need to understand the role of breath.
If breath fuels your voice, then you need time to take that breath, and what’s more, you need time to breathe deeply.
To have this breath, you need to pause in order to refuel your body. If you are not pausing and simply taking quick “top-up” breaths, the truth is that you simply will not have a strong voice. You might be heard, but your voice will lack power and control.
This “pause to breathe” is vital to enable deep breathing, and also hugely important to control nerves and composure.
A mantra I always tell my clients is: “Give yourself time to pause and breathe because it gives you the fuel to speak.”
A Pause for the Audience (Or “Give them a break!”)
When we truly want the audience to digest and remember what we are saying and if we as presenters are honestly committed to our message, then a pause is essential.
If you “plough on” through your content, then you’re not respecting your audience.
You’re not giving them the time to think and feel about what has just been communicated. There is no question, you will overload your audience, you will frustrate them.
And ultimately they will stop listening.
A Pause to Allow You to Think and Reflect (Or “Give the brain a break!”)
When you are speaking and you literally are not giving yourself any time to either reflect on what you have just said, or any time to consider what you are about to say, you can be described as disconnected.
You may know your content very well and feel very confident, but you are not present or connected to your words.
I’m sorry to say that this often results in unauthentic, meaningless presenting.
And the sad fact is that we see it so often.
By not giving the “brain a break”, what can happen in these situations is that you can lose your concentration or “train of thought”.
When you don’t give your mind time to pause and think, you often experience what my six-year-old daughter refers to it as the “Brain Freeze” – your mind draws a blank.
Allowing a pause to think will help you to punctuate your ideas and remain connected to your words and message.
Should you have the “Brain Freeze” a pause (and breath) will help you to recover and get back on track.
As poet, artist, and speaker Cleo Wade has written:
Repair your universe
Exercise time! How to Critique the Use of Pause in Others and Yourself
Try this. It’s very simple.
Next time you are:
- Having a conversation with a colleague or friend
- Listening to a presenter (perhaps at work or a TED talk).
Exercise 1: Observe the use of pause
- The use of pause – what effect does it have on you?
- Watch out for the ineffective pause and the authentic pause
- How does it make you feel about the presenter and the message?
- Observe if there’s time for pause or if there’s too much pause – note what the experience is like for you.
Now it’s your turn.
Take 2 minutes of your work related content – your presentation or meeting minutes.
Exercise 2: Put it into action
- As naturally as you can, speak it aloud – but first hit record on your phone
- After you finish, allow ten minutes to distance yourself from it
- Play it back and listen for your pauses
- Critique yourself
- Ask the above questions (part 1)
- Ask this important question “do I believe ME?”, “am I honestly, authentically communicating this message?”
- If the answer is NO – then simply repeat the exercise with the focus on pausing for authentic communication.
- Share the recording with someone and get feedback.
- It will take a few goes – but it’s a great little exercise in self-critiquing
So whilst there are many effective Pause devices we can build into our communication and presentation skills to achieve performance quality – we need to come right back to basics and understand the authentic pause, because it gives you (and your audience) something special, and that something is authentically you communicating.
Exercise 3: Listen to these three well-known speakers
Using Exercise 1 above, listen to these videos and critique.
Mark Zuckerberg’s 2017 Harvard Commencement Speech
That final address from Michelle Obama
Steve Jobs being Steve Jobs
ConfidentSpeak is a Voice and Communications consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland.
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ConfidentSpeak is a specialist S.T.E.M Communications & Coaching Consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We work with leading Irish and international companies and executives at home and abroad. Contact us for details on our range of corporate/private programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.