Pausing and Phrasing

“Everything I say is the result of thought / Every thought I have needs a breath / Breathing is also known as inspiration / Therefore I inspire the thought with breath / Which in turn becomes sound / And with articulation becomes speech / Then I can turn the speech into words / In order to share with the audience my original thought.”

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (London) advice


Phrases and pauses are a blissful combination for an audience. They create neat, bite-sized chunks of meaning that allow your audience to digest what you have to say, moment by moment, thought by thought. A good phrase is made more marvelous by a well-timed pause.


Phrases are the antidote to the sin of plonking. To understand plonking think of a child learning to play the piano and plonking through note by note versus a great musician who plays phrase by phrase, each section having its own meaning and unity.


The word plonking actually comes from radio. It describes what bad announcers do – speaking word by word with occasional emphasis to show they are still awake. But because they’re going word by word the meaning doesn’t come through.

Try This 1: How to Combine Pausing and Phrasing

The fermata is a mark from the composer to the conductor – ‘Hold the pause for as long as you like’. But when we finally have the attention of an audience our instinct is to rush. ‘Please don’t stare, okay, I’m hurrying, there, I’m done.’ It doesn’t work that way. Attention is precious. If you’ve got something to say, say it. Slowly, with effect.


Seth Godin, marketer and author
1. Find a poem you like, a nursery rhyme will do.

2. Mark breath marks at the ends of the lines like this:

Line one: //Mary had a little lamb//

Line two: Its fleece was white as snow//


3. Now say the poem out load. Speak a line then close your mouth.

4. Read the next line. Close your mouth.

5. Try this exercise in front of a mirror. Say something then watch your mouth close, wait for the breath in and when it comes imagine breathing in a lovely smell, so you are relaxed and easy in the breathing.



Try This 2: In Conversation – How to Use Pausing and Phrasing in Speech

Now try the pausing and phrasing technique with something you might have to say for real, such as introducing yourself to a meeting perhaps. We all do totally natural pauses when we chat. Where we struggle is when we’re under pressure – the very moments where we need to make a great impression.


In speech keep your phrasing clear. Speak in bite-sized phrases and separate them with a little pause. If you don’t want to be interrupted, the trick is to make a subtle gesture just as you pause and to hold it through the pause. That way people know there’s more to come.


The key is to keep the phrasing and pausing going and not rush off like a runaway train. Take time to stop at each station and think each thought with your audience.


So you have to practise. Keep the tiny pause at the end of each sentence. It’s imperceptible to others because they’re thinking about what you just said and it gives you time to gather your thoughts. What feels to you like an age, an audience simply won’t notice. They’ll be too busy listening.


 This blog post is taken from the book ‘Gravitas’ published by Ebury


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