Pause for Effect—Because It Works

One of the most effective public speaking skills you can master is the pause: knowing when to use it and how long to hold it. The power of the pause is in its ability to both punctuate your message and keep your audience on the edge of their seats.

In speaking, pauses act as your verbal punctuation; they’re your silent commas, semi-colons, periods, and ellipses. You pause for effect when you want your audience to take a moment and think about what you’ve just said, or simply to break up your material. A great public speaker also knows how to use to a pause when he or she loses their train of thought and needs a moment to regroup.

Tips for Using Pauses in Public Speaking

The men and women who attend our public speaking training workshops are usually skeptical about using pauses in their presentations because they think it will make them look as though they’ve forgotten what they want to say next.

An intentional pause will never sound that way and here’s why: Forgetting what you’re going to say creates a sense of panic in inexperienced speakers, and when people panic, they avoid eye contact. A speaker who’s deliberately taking a pause will maintain eye contact with the audience during the pause. Don’t believe me? Think about the speakers you’ve heard who have forgotten what they want to say—and you knew it. Chances are the first thing they did was look away, probably down at their notes. Had they taken a breath, maintained eye contact with the audience and gave themselves a moment to get back on track, you never would have known they forgot what they were going to say.

If you are in a situation where you really have forgotten what you were going to say and you need to look at your notes to refresh your memory, use a prop—like a glass of water—to make your pause less obvious. When you look down to reach for the glass, take a quick glance at your notes, take a sip, and then keep going. No one will be the wiser.

One of the Best Public Speaking Skills

So how long should you hold a pause for it to be effective? It depends on a couple of things: When the pause is taking place, and why you’re pausing.

Pausing for less than five seconds will be dismissed by your audience as a hiccup in your presentation, so if you’re pausing for effect, hold it for a minimum of five seconds. It doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is when you’re standing in front of an audience saying nothing. In fact, we tell our clients to wait a minimum of five seconds before starting their presentations. Get up to the microphone and wait for the room to quiet down and everyone to turn their attention to you. Then wait another five seconds. It’s an effective way to grab your audience’s attention without saying a word.

Pausing is also a valuable public speaking skill when you’re trying to inject some humor into your presentation: Strategically placing a pause ahead of the punchline makes your audience anticipate what you’re about to say, which ends up making your joke or humorous anecdote more amusing.

Public Speak With Confidence

Confident speakers aren’t afraid to stand quiet for a moment, because they understand the value of a well-placed pause.  Could you use some help mastering how to pause for effect? Our training programs cover it.  Contact us today to find out when we’ll be in your area next.