Psychologists say a typical group will withstand about fifteen seconds of silence before someone breaks the silence and speaks. There’s tension in silence yet power in the pause.
“The right words may be effective,” said Mark Twain, “but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
Great presenters understand the power of the pause and use it appropriately. Pauses are especially effective when they are used to:
– Establish authority
– Emphasize important points
– Regain lost attention
– Allow time for key points to soak in
– Close the sale
There are many different types of pauses, the most important of which are:
SENSE PAUSES: One-half to one second in length, these pauses are like using a comma when we write.
TRANSITIONAL PAUSES: Transitional pauses are one or two seconds in length and separate one thought from another like a period in writing.
REFLECTIVE PAUSES: These pauses last two to four seconds and emphasize points you want listeners to remember.
DRAMATIC PAUSES: Three seconds or longer, dramatic pauses create anticipation for a startling or pivotal point.
When we present, we have a suspended sense of reality. To the audience, a brief pause is only a blimp on the screen but to the presenter it feels like a lifetime.
Quite often I challenge students to experiment with pauses. After making a crucial point, I ask them to pause and count, “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi,” before moving on to their next point. After the presentation, I have them check in with their audience to see if the pause was too long. Audiences always say no.
Pausing and pacing can be teamed for more powerful presentations. When I work with more advanced students, we often experiment with this technique. The speaker delivers one thought to one person, then walks three steps in silence, plants, and offers the next point. Their audiences watch and wait in silence, eager for the speaker to resume.
Pausing is also effective for those of us who talk fast when we present. I coach students with rapid-fire delivery to slow down and pause. By pausing they allow audiences time to consider and digest what is being said as well as refocus their attention.
Like any technique, pauses should be used in moderation. When used appropriately, pauses make us more powerful speakers.
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