The Public Speaking Pause

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The Pause

In our classes we have participants work through a number of exercises, and people quickly learn that indeed, it’s much more comforting when you can give your presentation to one person at a time. When you get to the point where instead of trying to crank your whole system up, you actually look at one person at a time, letting everything else go, you start a process in which you can settle down and feel much more comfortable. And again, the more comfortable you feel, the more comfortable the audience is going to feel, because they’re empathizing with you. And the more comfortable they are, the more likely they are to uptake your message.

Though most of our on-site participants pick up on the “Lock, Talk” aspects of the program quite easily, the hardest part for most people to implement is always the “& Pause” part. Yet as we’ll examine in this article, the pause is probably the most important component to the process of speaking well. As we’ve mentioned many times before, all great speakers, all people who have The Skills, have learned to embrace the pause.

This lesson will contain less reading than the first two because we really want you to study the upcoming videos, and replay them repeatedly, so that you get to the point where when you next get up to speak, you can “hear” the speakers in your mind and let them guide you through your delivery.

What we want you to thoroughly appreciate is how these masters of The Skills use the pause to such advantage. But why is the pause so important?

The pause is important for three reasons. The first is about allowing your audience to hear what you just said, and the second is about getting them to hear what you’re about to say next. The third purpose of the pause, which is crucial to forming the actual verbiage of your presentation, will form the basis for our next article.

It’s important to recognize that the pause in speech is equivalent to the paragraph in the written word. Think about this. When do you end one paragraph and begin a new one? With the movement to a new thought, a new concept, right? It works the same way in speech.

Too much information!

Can relate to the structure of older textbooks, especially science textbooks (organic chemistry, anyone?) that you’d open up and see page after page after page of text without a single break? Many of us didn’t make it through chemistry in college, because when we opened up the textbook, we flipped through a few pages and just said, “No way!”. You saw an unending stream of words for page after page and decided that your brain was simply not equipped to take in all that stuff.

That’s exactly how your listeners feel when you speak without pausing. You don’t see them slam the book shut on you, but they do silently decide to shut out much of what you say, choosing to wait for the handout. They still smile and nod when you look at them, but they’re not hearing you. They can’t hear you, because as we know from Rule #3, people only start listening when you stop talking.

Now compare the chemistry textbook to a newspaper. Until you pick one up and count, many people aren’t aware that the average newspaper paragraph contains only two sentences. (In USA Today, sometimes less than one). Why? Well, when you think about it, newspapers are in the same business you are when delivering a presentation.

Newspapers are there to deliver new information to people quickly, and then move on. Newspapers know they have one shot to give it to you, because most people don’t hold on to newspapers. They’re not used as reference material. You read them one time through, and then you toss them in the trash on your way off the train.

So the process of getting a lot of new information to people quickly involves being able to parcel it out into nice little bite-size morsels that the brain can ingest. The paragraph is a big key to that. Think about the physical structure of a paragraph. You read across the column: one sentence, two sentences, and then what do you get? You get a nice little piece of white space. That white space is brain rest.

And then even before you’re asked you to take in more information, you’re given a little indent – a bit more white space. A little more brain rest. That’s what a paragraph’s all about.

Speaking in paragraphs

The pause in speech works exactly the same way. In order to get your audience to really take in what you have to say, you’ve got to learn to stop talking and give their brains a little rest. Frequently. You’ve got to stop talking long enough for them to ingest that last thing you said, get a picture of it, and try to put it into a context that they know before moving on to the next thing you’re going to say.

The pause is absolutely the most important thing you can do when you speak. People have a hard time appreciating that, because they think that speaking is about talking. As we’ve said before: time can go on quite nicely even when not filled with your words! But as you listen to the speakers in the videos, you will begin to appreciate why those with The Skills not only embrace they pause, they strive to be masters of it.

About the Author

J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.


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