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The Power of Pausing

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Mark Twain

In our previous newsletter we looked at the Lock, Talk and Pause technique to help reduce your stress as a speaker and to keep the audience’s full attention. I would now like to share with you some tips on the powerful and indispensable technique of pausing.

We all speak at different speeds and there are no hard and fast rules about how quickly or slowly we should speak when we are presenting. However, when we analyse some of the most powerful speeches of all time, given by Martin Luther King, J F Kennedy or Steve Jobs for example *, what’s striking is how much pausing all these speakers use. Great presenters speak in groups of words, often as few as 3, 4 or 5, before integrating a pause. The key advantages of well-timed pausing are the following:

1.       It gives the audience time to reflect and ingest the information the presenter is giving them.

If you pay attention to a comedian telling a joke, you’ll notice that the audience takes several seconds to laugh after the punch line has actually been given. This is because the brain needs time to process and absorb the information it’s just received.

2.       It gives the speaker time to breathe and reflect.

When we’re nervous, we forget to breathe and this leads to all sorts of difficulties, such as blushing, sweating, dry mouth, loss of train of thought, etc. By integrating the pause into your speech, you give yourself time to breathe and to think about what you want to say next, making you not only look but also feel more comfortable.

3.       It gives you credibility.

If you look comfortable and in control, the audience will also feel more comfortable, and as a result they’re more likely to empathise with you and adhere to your message.

Here’s an exercise to help you learn the pausing technique:

Listen to the beginning of Obama’s Presidential Acceptance Speech and notice where he pauses.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K8GWCl7P7U)

Here is the edited version of his speech, with the pauses indicated:

“If there / is anyone out there / who still doubts / that America is a place where / all things are possible / who still wonders / if the dream of our founders / is alive in our time, / who still questions / the power of our democracy, / tonight / is your answer.”

To practice this technique yourself, you can take your own presentation and mark the pauses in the same way as in the example above. Then read out loud your presentation, over and over again, paying particular attention to where you need to pause. Remember to slow down and speak as though you have plenty of time. This will leave the audience all the time they need to absorb what you’ve just said before picking up on the next piece of information you’re giving them.

If you’d like more information on how this is done, please don’t hesitate to contact me at marie@stephensoncoaching.com

* Here are the videos of the talks mentioned above:

Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream Speech – August 28, 1963

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs)
President Kennedy 1961 Inaugural Address
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLmiOEk59n8)

Steve Jobs – iPhone Introduction in 2007
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hUIxyE2Ns8)

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