Never Under Estimate the Power of the Pause
Alan Alda says, “It is the space between the lines that make it a great performance.”
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, a period, a paragraph, an exclamation point, an underline, or an ellipsis if your talk were written out. Use this as a guide for pauses.
The late, great, and very much missed Ron Arden was a legendary speech coach with a theatrical background as an actor and director. He coached me and his many clients on our pauses.
You may find interesting this helpful explanation of 9 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 it occurs about twice as often. It is more frequent than the comma because in writing if your audience cannot understand something, they can reread it. Since this isn’t possible in speaking, you must allow time for your audience to process. 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 from 1/2 to 1 second.
2. Transition Pause
The transition pause is 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. This pause lasts between 1 and 2 seconds.
3. Dramatic Pause
A dramatic pause is 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 highlight a dramatic pause by following it with a statement that rewards your audience for following along with you. A dramatic pause can last anywhere from 3 to 7 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 says to your audience, “I want you to think about that,”or “I’ve left a space for you to think . . . “A reflective pause can last from 3 to 7 seconds.
5. Pause for Effect
A pause for effect is shorter, usually just 1 to 2 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 4 are advanced uses of the pause that you can implement to add finesse to your public speaking.
6. Spontaneity Pause
This pause creates a feeling of spontaneity. It is a technique that suggests 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 actually 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, it is easy to begin rambling or 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 cold glass of lemonade in your hand,” pause . . . Create a 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 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 interact mentally with your words. A skilled speaker will often engage an audience more with pauses than with speaking.
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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.