There are several techniques involved in effective public speaking. We discuss a few here.
Of these, there is one that is incredibly simple yet powerful: the Pause.
The Pause is a period of silence in a speech. It can be used at the end of a sentence, or to break up long sentences.
And when judiciously applied, the Pause can bring more benefits than you can imagine possible.
Benefits of the Pause
1 – It gives the audience time to process and reflect on what has just been said – particularly when a speaker just presented something deep, something that should be a trigger for reflection, or a large amount of information.
2 – It gives the speaker the opportunity to better structure and express the next sentence. It’s unbelievable how much better our sentences get delivered when we stop for a second to think about what we’ll be saying next.
3 – It gives the speaker a chance to breathe. In the rush of speaking non-stop, many presenters forget to breathe! This compromises the quality and power of the voice, prevents the use of good intonation, and leaves the speaker’s tank empty. (And it’s hard for the brain to work right without enough oxygen!)
4 – It enables the speaker to smoothly move from one interaction with an audience member to another. Imagine: You’re looking at and addressing the manager in the first row; you pause; and during that pause you redirect your attention to the manager in the third row as you continue to speak. The pause allows a smooth transition.
5 – It preempts the use of “empty” words and expressions like hummm, well, so, uh, um, etc. If the pause is used strategically, the speaker won’t feel the need to fill a conversational gap with annoying sounds that don’t add value to the presentation.
6 – It slows the pace of delivery. It’s hard to speak fast and also employ pauses. By adding pauses, we naturally speak more slowly and so avoid the annoying habit of fast-talking too long.
7 – It raises expectations about what the speaker is about to say.
And all of this can be accomplished through … silence!
What Are We So Afraid Of?
Why is it so difficult for speakers to use the pause? There’s a common belief about this. One problem is that people think silence looks bad – that silence will be interpreted as lack of knowledge, lack of preparation, and/or lack of expertise. Even in social situations, there’s always somebody who feels uncomfortable when silence overtakes a conversation. That person will jump to fill the “empty” space. And that person may not have anything at all useful to say.
Another problem is the fact that “time” for a presenter is perceived differently than “time” for an audience. A few innocuous seconds to an audience can seem like an eternity to somebody on stage, in the spotlight, in front of a crowd. And pauses take a little time.
The result? People think they’re somehow doomed if they stop talking for even a second. And so they miss out on those 7 great benefits of just being quiet every once in a while and dealing with the fear.
The Quick Win
Pauses of up to 2 seconds are perfectly fine and can turn into a quick win for the speaker. So get up your courage, try the strategic pause as you deliver your next business presentation, and just watch what happens.