It’s all about…the pause

Posted by on Sep 19, 2016 in presentations, public speaking | No Comments

Creating moments of stillness in your talks can help you say a lot

Using pauses in your public speaking can be your best friend. Here are three ways to use them.

Barack Obama uses them all the time. Eddie Izzard is a master. His use of them is brilliant in revealing God’s first name in his Death Star saga. And some of the best music is precisely the best music because of how it uses them.


Presenting in front of an audience can kick start the instinctive urge you get when you first learn to swim. You know, that voice inside your head warning if you even think of stopping you’re going under. But including regular brief stops in your public speaking won’t sink you. It’ll make you fly.

Start with silence

Starting with a pause is a very powerful and commanding way to begin a talk. It adds gravitas. As you’re standing up there at the front, look around the audience. Smile. Stand still and composed. Then, when you’ve the audience’s attention leave a second or two of silence.

The first time you do this that voice in your head might panic, you know the one when you started swimming, but hold on. Your silence is settling the audience and signalling you’re in charge. Keep smiling and then begin with a welcome and start the introduction to your talk.

White Space

Pauses can also be used to support your audience. When you’re presenting you’re the expert of what you’re about to say and although the audience knows the title of your talk, that’s pretty much it. The words, the ideas, the stories you’re about to tell, they’re all new to the audience. And that’s where pauses come in.

Do you remember your first driving lesson? When you put the key in the ignition? How you felt when the car moved forward and it was you who was actually causing that? I’m betting that how you were spoken to that day made a difference.

Your parent or driving instructor might have patiently explained the mass of information on driving with pauses for you to remember what was just said, helping you to absorb all this new stuff. On the other hand you might have been met with a barrage of instructions, reeled off quickly, giving you no time to process these new instructions.

Pauses are a gift to your audience. It gives them breathing space to think about what you’ve just said. Pauses act like white space on a page by creating room around your words so that others can reflect on and absorb what you’ve told them.

Highlighting your words in neon

Pauses also help you emphasise a point. Kids’ story books have colourful illustrations to add life and the tale is reinforced by the bright drawings. Pauses can do just the same for your talks.

Say you’ve three points you want your audience to remember. Using pauses as you introduce each of these points adds a bit drama and is the equivalent of adding colour to your talk, in this case highlighting your words in neon. Using pauses sparingly can accentuate your main talking points. This could be the difference between your audience being able to remember and not remember your talk.

So, when you’re planning your next talk… pause… to think how you can use pauses to add more impact: before you start your talk, to give your audience time to absorb what you’re saying and to emphasise your key points.

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