Pausing is one of the most important parts of public speaking. It’s fair to say that silence can be just as powerful as words. If what we say is important, then pausing for emphasis is a close second. Mark Twain once said:
The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.
As far as I’m concerned, if Mark Twain thinks it’s a good idea, then it’s a good idea. (I’m a big Twain fan in case you hadn’t guessed!)
So when do we pause? Here’s six times when it’s important to pause:
This ties in with our normal pattern of speech. When we ask someone a question, we naturally pause. The same applies to our public speaking. We may be asking a rhetorical question, but we still want to give the audience time to think. If we are asking a series of rhetorical questions, then we need to inject a pause after each question.
Power statements and pausing
Power statements are those lines that are the heart of our presentation. A good example is Martin Luther King’s, ‘I Have A Dream‘ statement. You’ll notice that Dr King pauses many times after he says those words.
We pause for emotional resonance. When we make an emotional statement, we want the audience to linger on it. We want our words to sink in. If we say a line like, ‘My mother died when I was fifteen’ then we want the audience to take that in before we continue on.
We want to pause when citing a source. Sources are important in that they give credibility to our presentations. If we’re quoting from the Harvard Medical Review, then we want the audience to know that we’re citing a trusted source.
We pause when saying a name for the first time. Newsreaders do this all the time. Even when it’s a famous person, they’ll often inject a tiny pause to make certain that we catch the name.
Don’t ignore the punctuation marks in your text. These are natural pauses that we need to take into consideration when speaking. A comma indicates a pause. A full stop indicates a longer pause. The end of a paragraph indicates an even longer pause.
There are also ellipses. These are those ‘…’ that you see in writing. They indicate a pause too. They might indicate a dramatic mid-sentence pause, or they might indicate that the sentence trails off. For example, ‘I used to love you, but now…’
As stated above, question marks indicate a pause. Exclamation marks do the same thing. A dramatic sentence like, ‘I hated him!’ will definitely create a pause.
We pause for clarity. We pause to make the audience stop and think. We pause for emphasis. Ultimately, we pause to add dynamic variety to our speeches.
Take out your highlighter pen and highlight the punctuation. Then highlight all those other places where you need to pause. Your written text will show you that your silence is as important as your words.