Powerful and persuasive presenters recognize the importance of the pause. Alan Alda says, “It is the stuff between the lines that makes it a great performance.” (If you are familiar with my work, you know I do not like the word “stuff.” However, this is an actual quote.) My brother Robert Fripp, the legendary guitarist and one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists” explains, “The music is between the notes, not in the notes.”
Your message is not simply conveyed by your words, but also by your pauses. A pause isn’t a moment of “nothing.” Used strategically, it is a tool to help you build an intellectual and emotional connection with your audience. When you pause, you give your audience time to process what you have just said. A pause allows your listeners to stay engaged and enables them to follow what comes next. If you tend to speak rapidly, it is even more important to allow adequate time for pauses.
Imagine where you would have a comma, period, paragraph, an exclamation point, an underline, or ellipses if your talk were written out. Use this as a guide for pauses.
When I interviewed my friend and fellow speech coach, Ron Arden, he shared this helpful explanation of nine types of pauses and how and when to use them:
1. Sense Pause
The sense pause is roughly where a comma would be in writing, but occurs about twice as frequently. This pause is more frequent than the comma because, in writing if your audience cannot understand something they can re-read it. Since this isn’t possible in speaking, you must allow time for your audience to understand. This is a way of grouping words in small “parcels” so the audience can keep up with what you are saying. This pause usually lasts one-half to one second.
2. Transition Pause
The transition pause is approximately where a period would be in writing. It separates one thought from another. Many speakers are unaware that they are speaking in run-on sentences. Audiences are not able to process rapid speech as well as we might think they can, especially if the content is unusual, emotional, poetic, dramatic, or new to the audience. This pause lasts between one and two seconds.
3. Dramatic Pause
A dramatic pause is a pause used to set up and spotlight what you will say next. For example, “Do you know what happened?”… (pause)… (pause)… (pause)... This heightens tension in your narrative and gets the audience involved. You have to earn a dramatic pause, by following it with a statement that rewards your audience for following along with you. A dramatic pause can be anywhere from three – seven seconds.
4. Reflective Pause
A reflective pause gives your audience time to reflect. Complex or unusual statements need to be followed by time for reflection. This type of pause indicates to your audience, “I want you to think about that…” “I’ve left a space for you to think…” A reflective pause can last from three to seven seconds.
5. Pause for Effect
A pause for effect is shorter, usually one to two seconds. It creates the feeling that something is going to happen and lets words hang in the air so the audience can play with them in their minds.
These last four are advanced uses of the pause you can implement to add finesse to your public speaking.
6. Spontaneity Pause
This pause creates the feeling of spontaneity. This is a technique that conveys you are thinking about your words as you are speaking and not simply reciting something you have said many times before. This will keep you and your audience members interested, even if you are very familiar with what you are saying.
7. Pause to Relinquish Control
This is particularly useful in Q & A situations. When responding to a question, is easy to fall into the trap of rambling, repeating yourself, and weakening your response. Nail your response to the question and then pause to indicate you are finished speaking.
8. Sensory Pause
Use this to support a description that appeals to the senses. For example, “A beautiful warm afternoon… (pause) ….imagine it… (pause) …willows softly rustling in the breeze… (pause) …birds chirping in the trees… (pause) …sitting with a cool glass of lemonade in your hand… (pause). Create heightened feeling in your audience by pausing to allow their senses to take hold.
9. Pause for Emphasis
The enemy of the speaker is sameness. An audience will get bored if they feel like you are saying the same thing over and over again, even if you are not. Use pauses to delineate your key points. Keep your presentation dynamic so your audience does not get lulled to sleep. Use pauses to change gears.
Remember, a speech is not a monologue unless your audience is asleep or dead. A speech is a dialogue between your words and each audience member’s inner dialogue. Pauses allow your audience members to mentally interact with your words. A skilled speaker will often engage their audience more with their pauses than with their speaking.
My complete interview with Ron Arden is available from my podcasts page: https://www.fripp.com/public-speaking-resources/podcasts/ For additional help with your presentation delivery read: “Sometimes It’s Better Not to Speak,” “Are You Speaking Too Quickly?,” and “Public Speaking – Delivery Strategy.” These are just a few of the many complimentary resources on Fripp.com
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Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.