Think about the speakers you admire, and you’ll notice that they share a common trait: they have all mastered how to use effective pauses. The humble pause is often overlooked, but it really shouldn’t be underestimated. It serves an important purpose for you as a presenter and also for your audience. Remembering to pause ensures you come across as a calm, experienced speaker; it can help eliminate ums and ers; and it keeps your audience interested, alert and engaged.
Here are some of the ways you can use pauses to maximum effect:
A common public speaking problem is when the speaker launches straight into their talk. A combination of nerves and rushing to start leaves them breathless, and they spend the rest of their talk chasing their breath. This puts them and the audience on edge. It’s important to take a moment before you begin – to pause, breathe and look at your audience before getting started.
Pausing after a key point will allow the audience time to reflect and process what you have said. If your audience’s first language isn’t English, you will also need to add translation time into the mix before they have a chance to digest what you have said.
Pauses make you look like a confident and calm speaker. They also prevent you from using filler words too much, such as ‘um’ and ‘er.’
Sometimes if speakers haven’t “Tamed Their Public Speaking Monkeys” they are so intent on racing through to the end of their talk that they forget all about the poor audience. Or sometimes adrenaline speeds things up without them even realising. You have undoubtedly heard your presentation many, many times, but it’s likely to be the first time your audience has heard it. They need time to process rapid speech, so use spacer pauses to separate one thought from the next.
Don’t rush through your key points – they are important, so give them the space they need. Pausing before a key point will increase tension and add emphasis.
Many speakers use questions – or tag questions – to engage with their audience. But if you ask a question then move on without a pause, it seems insincere. Think of your talk as a real conversation, and allow time for a response. Whether your audience does actually answer or not, it has to feel genuine and not like a gimmick.
We’ll leave you with the wise words of Mark Twain, who once said: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” See…silence really can be golden.