The most precious things in speech are pauses.
-Sir Ralph Richardson
The basic function of public speaking is to……well, speak. At its core, public speaking exists to communicate important ideas through strong verbalization. At some point in our lives, we are called upon to speak before a group or audience. When this time comes, we take great care to plan every moment of our speech, from the structural breakdown of each page of the PowerPoint to when we should properly pause and take a breath. But how much time do we spend, each day, not considering our speech patterns? Do we truly know when to pause in a speech? Utilizing the art of pausing throughout a speech will not only enrich your personal communication skills, but will further entice your audience.
Why pause at all?
Pausing throughout our speeches is crucial to effective public speaking. For starters, we need to breathe throughout our speech delivery! Beyond basic oxygen replenishment, effective pausing also helps us to stay on track, gives the audience time to reflect, and adds emphasis to our ideas. Pauses can become a Swiss Army knife in your presentation skills’ tool kit, because they enhance the context of your content.
When to pause:
- At the end of a sentence, signaling the conclusion of a complete thought
- After changing slides, giving your audience a chance to absorb the new visuals
- Before delivering a critical point to increase impact
- After sharing an important idea so it marinates with the audience
- After (physically) showing the audience a new gadget or prop
- When presenting dense, technical information
- After receiving an audience question or response so you can gather your thoughts
- To breathe
How to pause
All pauses are not created equal. You should pay attention to long pauses in your speech, as well as overall pauses. It is extremely beneficial to utilize both long- and regular- length pauses throughout your speech delivery. A regular pause should occur naturally at the end of each thought or sentence, while long pauses should be inserted when transitioning to a new idea. Doing so helps emphasize the transition, and gives you an extra moment to gather your thoughts as you move to the next major theme in your speech.
Pauses also allow you to pace your delivery. This is crucial to knowing when to pause in a speech. Many individuals struggle with rushing through their speech or presentation, due to nerves or talking fast. Pausing throughout the entirety of your speech will not only pace yourself, but can also help calm your nerves! Stringing together complex sentence after complex sentence can leave you out of breath, and leave audience members lost. Working on taking that pause to breathe when rehearsing your speech will result in an excellently delivered speech that keeps your audience engaged. Remember, natural pacing makes it easier for your listeners to follow along and digest your points. If your pauses don’t occur naturally, your delivery will sound disjointed and robotic.
Remember to pause, remember to breathe, and you’ll be on the right path toward becoming a professional public speaker.