The Power of the Pause

When faced with an important professional interaction, people tend to put a lot of thought into what they are going to say. While choosing your words wisely is certainly important, the way in which we speak is equally important. Our tone of voice, rate of speech, and other non-verbal cues often say more about our message than our words themselves. One extremely powerful, but often overlooked communication tool is the pause.

When people are nervous, over-excited, or speaking about something they feel passionate about, they often speak more quickly than usual. This often causes the speaker to lose much of the vocal variety that makes speech powerful and interesting to the listener.

Inserting a well-timed pause can help to restore a natural flow, and give more power to your speech.

Politics aside, think about President Barack Obama. When he speaks he gives very strategic pauses. He gets your attention and holds it, until he is ready to continue. That is the power of the pause. It is one of the most effective tools in speaking to one person or delivering a keynote to many.

However, it’s not just enough to pause; you want to make sure you’re pausing in the most powerful places possible. Usually this is either right before or after an important point to which you want to draw your listener’s attention. Pausing before an important point allows the listener to fully focus and builds anticipation. Pausing immediately after you make an important point allows your listener to absorb the information and react to it.

Think about reading. You see the period and you unconsciously pause to process what you just read. Especially when it is a long or complex sentence.

When speaking, we don’t have the luxury of putting a period at the end of the sentence. However, by using a pause, you are telling your listener that the sentence or the thought has ended. The listener is able to process what you just said before you continue to the next sentence. I call the it verbal highlighter.

Of course this takes practice. Initially you will feel like you are speaking in slow motion. Like the batteries ran out on a recording device. But others will tell you that you are now speaking with greater impact.

When I speak to live audiences I always share my favorite quote by Winston Churchill. I deliver it first in a typical, rapid rate of speech. The audience laughs because they have no idea what I am saying. But the truth is, that is how people sound in day to day conversation. When I deliver the exact same quote using the strategic pauses, there is immediate acknowledgement by everyone in the audience as they hear the very obvious difference. The discussion that follows includes comments such as, “I can understand what you are saying.” I get the humor.” “I can visualize what you are saying.”

That is the magic of the pause.

When properly used, silence can be worth a thousand words.

Strong communication skills will help you stand out and move up the corporate ladder by building clarity and confidence.

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