The eminent Shakespearean actor Ralph Richardson once said, “The most precious things in speech are pauses.” It’s not only true for the thespian performing a soliloquy from Hamlet, but also for anyone delivering a speech or presentation.
Pauses in your speech serve several important functions. First, they help control breathing, which is fundamental to your success as a speaker. Natural pauses assist your breathing by giving you time to draw breath, thus fueling your brain with oxygen. With better breathing comes more control over your nerves, which helps instill confidence. You are less likely to panic or lose your place when you manage your breathing. Also, when you breathe properly and deeply, you will project your voice better to those in the back row while reducing the number of filler words such as “um’s” or “ah’s.” It’s very difficult to say anything while breathing air in.
The power of the pause is clear when we talk about adding emphasis or building suspense. Pauses encourage captive listening. A well-timed pause grabs the audience’s attention and has them anticipating the end of your thought.
Pauses help control the rate at which you speak. If you tend to rush, remembering to pause helps you slow down and moderate your rate of delivery. Practice pausing for a beat at the end of each sentence, and it will begin to feel natural and slow you down in the process.
Taking a breath at the end of each sentence has other benefits in addition to slowing your rate of delivery. Pausing allows you to gather your next thought, check your notes or change your visual. It also gives your audience time to process what they’ve just heard or seen if you’re using visuals. Giving your audience processing time makes it easier for them to follow the speaker’s logic or train of thought. They are more apt to stay engaged and not “tune out” and start checking their phones or doing other behaviors unrelated to the presentation.
When planning your next speech, identify your most powerful points, those that you want your audience to remember. Mark those places with a pause to give the audience a few seconds to reflect.
Presenting a speech takes a lot of preparation. Prepare your pauses as you do your content, notes and slides, and you’ll deliver a more engaging presentation.
About the Author
Jim Moushon is a Senior Master Trainer at Communispond. Jim's areas of expertise are in executive coaching, presentation skills, media interviews, persuasive dialogue, interpersonal communication, business writing and sales effectiveness. In addition, he does train-the-trainer for Communispond as well as for many of Communispond's clients.
You can connect with Jim on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-moushon-b33b1810/