The Power of the Pause

Pausing is a communication skill!

Last week when I was working with an executive, I was reminded of the importance of using the ‘pause.’ This executive was not alone, for in my experience I find that about 1 person in 100 is conscious of how to effectively use the pause as a skill, and most don’t have a clue as to whether they use a pause or not. Too bad, as the Power of the Pause is one of the biggest take aways in our Decker Method™ program.

Here’s what you can do:

First, find out if you pause. Get a digital audio recorder, and record yourself daily when you are in control of the communication – leaving a phone message, running a meeting, or making a presentation or speech. You’ll learn a lot:

  1. You probably have ‘non-words.’ Non-words are just pause fillers, and extend beyond the typical “um” and “uh” to “you knows,” “ands,” “okays,” “right” and the like. All anyone has to do is practice leaving pauses of two or three seconds after each sentence. In doing this you will at first feel the pauses are excruciatingly long. We find people saying that a three second pause feels like thirty seconds. But it feels like a normal pause when you play it back on audio.
  2. The pauses you leave are probably less than half a second. Practice extending them, and then see how they sound on playback.

We have found that there are five great benefits of learning to use the pause as a conscious skill:

  1. Getting rid of the distracting non-words.
  2. Allows you time to think of what to say next. (I personally find this the most valuable ‘power of the pause.’
  3. Relieves tension, by allowing you to breathe.
  4. Reference your notes.
  5. Dramatize.

All of the above is when you are in control of the communications. There are other insights for pausing, or NOT pausing, when there is a dialogue, when people can interrupt, when you are in a conference call, and particularly when you are in a selling situation and want to use the pause to listen and draw out. But that’s for another time.

Practice pausing. It has great power in both informal and formal speaking.

7 comments on “The Power of the Pause

  1. Bert-
    As a desinger and a teacher, I too recognize the importance of giving your audience the time and space to digest what they’ve just heard. I recently attended a rally where saw Obama speak. Although, the event was running 2 hours behind schedule, you would have never know from his relaxed(and pause puncuated) presentation.
    _j
    community manager
    CorePage | Know more. Sell faster.

  2. You are right Bert: presenters often try to rush through their material as quickly as possible and in doing so alienate their audience.
    Silence is powerful in presentations!
    Silence is a common occurrence in genuine dialogue. One of our strongest allies in being mentally present is to hold our silence longer than is comfortable.
    Our natural discomfort with silence sometimes causes us to interrupt a silence in the conversation too soon. Frequently, before someone embraces a new perspective we are urging, they will go silent. They are doing the deep thinking required before they open to new perspectives. To interrupt this important exploration undercuts our ability to influence.
    I always suggest:
    1. Practice holding silence longer. Allow your “inner-observer” to
    monitor your nervousness, “Shouldn’t I be saying something?”
    2. Develop deeper silences within yourself so that you can hear
    through the noise to find the signal of what others really mean.
    3. See the silence of your conversation not as dead silence, not as
    paralyzed silence, but as silence teeming with possibility.
    Thanks for the post!

  3. You are right Bert: presenters often try to rush through their material as quickly as possible and in doing so alienate their audience.
    Silence is powerful in presentations!
    Silence is a common occurrence in genuine dialogue. One of our strongest allies in being mentally present is to hold our silence longer than is comfortable.
    Our natural discomfort with silence sometimes causes us to interrupt a silence in the conversation too soon. Frequently, before someone embraces a new perspective we are urging, they will go silent. They are doing the deep thinking required before they open to new perspectives. To interrupt this important exploration undercuts our ability to influence.
    I always suggest:
    1. Practice holding silence longer. Allow your “inner-observer” to
    monitor your nervousness, “Shouldn’t I be saying something?”
    2. Develop deeper silences within yourself so that you can hear
    through the noise to find the signal of what others really mean.
    3. See the silence of your conversation not as dead silence, not as
    paralyzed silence, but as silence teeming with possibility.
    Thanks for the post!

  4. Bert, Couldn’t agree more with the power of the pause. Similarly, I would include the power of silence. During a recent graduate school lecture, we conducted a role playing exercise. My biggest advice: “silence is your friend.” Stop talking and let the other person say something. Often the speaker was filling the airwaves with rambling sentences which mostly disrupted their message rather than improving their delivery.
    Great post!

  5. Bert-
    Good comments on the pause and the benefits of using the pause when speaking. I would add the pausing allows your audience to catch up to you and absorb what you have said and reflect on it for a second before you continue on. It gives the audience a chance to collect their thoughts on your subject too. Thanks for reminding us how important it is to add that white space into speaking.

  6. Bert,
    You’re absolutely right.
    Pausing is a very underrated and very underutilized public speaking skill.
    Since it’s been years since I’ve attended a Toastmasters meeting, I think I’ve personally become complacent.
    But you’ve definitely pointed out something that I’m reasonably certain I too need to work on, or at least be more conscious of: adding “white space” to my training sessions and sales presentations.
    Thanks for the great post.
    Joshua Feinberg