"The most precious things in speech are pauses."
So said the eminent Shakespearean actor Sir Ralph Richardson, and it’s not only true for the thespian performing a soliloquy from Hamlet. When delivering a speech or presentation, you can’t deny the power of the pause.
Pauses in your speech serve three important functions. First, they help control breathing, which is fundamental to your success as a speaker. Natural pauses assist your breathing. They give you time to draw breath, to ensure that you are not out of breath when speaking a long sentence. With better breathing comes more control over your nerves, which instills confidence. You are not 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.
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; they may even move a bit closer to the edge of their seat.
Pauses help control the rate at which you speak. If you have a tendency 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.
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.