Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Power of a Pause

One of the ways you can tell someone is not used to speaking in front of a group is to notice if they're rushing through their message. It's sometimes hard to follow speakers who shoot out their message like a barrage of paint balls.

My first semester of teaching at ECU I went so fast I got through a 16-week syllabus in about 11 weeks. Faced with the consequence of having to develop new ways to go over the material again for the remaining 5 weeks of the semester, I learned the value of slowing down. Years later Sister Mary Bernard at Merici Academy reminded me that novice teachers tend to cover too much material. (Some of us are enthusiastic but slow learners.)

As you get used to speaking in front of groups, you naturally slow down. But you can always work with the power of a pause to make your point more memorable.

Slowing down and pausing also helps you get rid of verbal fillers - those annoying "ahmmmms."

One tip I tell my clients is to pretend they're going to talk in slow motion. The words usually come out faster than you think. If you're using notes. write "pause" or "stop" at the appropriate points.

If you have a dramatic statistic or story, pause afterward to let it sink in.

If your audience laughs (whether or not you intended to be funny,) give them time to enjoy the humor.

If you experience brain freeze and totally forget what you were going to say, don't worry about the resulting unintentional pause. Your audience will think it's on purpose.

Pause between the main points you make.

If you have something complicated to explain (complicated to your audience, not you,) go slowly. Pause frequently.


Practice pausing in your daily conversations. You may notice that people begin to listen better to what you're saying.