Pauses strengthen the voice. They also render thoughts more clear-cut by separating them. Rhetorica ad Herennium
I want you to learn to love pauses. Not rushed or panicky pauses. No one could love those. I want you to learn to love pregnant pauses. Pauses full of ease, life, breath and thought. Pauses that move your thinking on, which give you inspiration. Pauses that are, to echo the old Coca-Cola slogan, the ‘pause that refreshes’.
The ability to be comfortable with a pause is central to gravitas. It says that you trust yourself; that you’re not desperate to please or to fill a silence. In a moment of silence you understand the truth of the old acting rule that the most powerful person in the room has the most relaxed breathing pattern (no matter what their job title).
Pauses are also persuasive. In the University of Michigan research, which looked at what made for effective telephone sales, pauses made the biggest difference of all. As ever, balance was key in the best communication. When it came to pauses neither too much, nor too little, but just enough was required for effective influence.
Too little pausing didn’t work at all. Those who paused naturally, 3.5 times a minute, were the most successful at influencing their audience. People who paused too much were seen as stilted and uncomfortable – ‘dis-fluent’. But it was interesting that even the most dis-fluent interviewers had higher success rates than those who were too perfect. Not pausing at all was the worst. It sounded fake and listeners didn’t trust or warm to the speaker so there was no sale.
So, how do you learn to pause? Let’s debunk the myths.
Myth 1 Pauses make me look like I don’t know what I’m talking about.
No A relaxed pause gives you ease and conversational elegance. Sure, you have to be prepared and fluent, practised. Once you are then it’s best to let each thought land, give it space and your audience time to process. When you give an audience time to think research shows they perceive you as more intelligent because they have had a chance to catch up with you and think about what you’re saying.
Myth 2 Pauses will slow me down and bore the audience.
No What’s really boring for an audience is when a speaker gallops through their content because they don’t want to waste the audience’s time. If they go too fast the audience can’t keep up so they stop listening and that’s when it all gets truly boring. It’s far better to deliver each line with weight and emphasis and lead your audience thought by thought so they hear every idea clearly and remember what you say.
Myth 3 If I pause I might lose my thread.
No If you think of the pause as a permitted, in fact essential, breathing space and consciously give yourself permission to pause and breathe then you are oxygenating your brain. If you can pause and oxygenate your brain, and you have a plan, then you will be fine because you will be relaxed and prepared. If you pause and hold your breath, then yes, you might not feel entirely confident to continue. When you panic and stop breathing your brain is deprived of oxygen. It does take a little practice to master pausing and phrasing. See my ‘Pausing and Phrasing’ blog post.
Pauses are good. To master them you have to find the balance. Not pausing at all sounds scripted and fake; pausing too much sounds jerky and uncomfortable. What works best is a relaxed pause that reveals clear thinking underneath. Then you can enjoy a totally natural pause in which you relax and think of the next thought and you are not rushing to fill silence.
To understand pauses you also need to understand phrasing [add link to the blue underlined text to the ‘Pausing and Phrasing’ blog post]. That’s what we’re moving on to next.