Sounds of Silence- When to Pause and For How Long

When you are giving a presentation you might consider silence the enemy or the sign of someone who is unprepared.   It happens when you get lost in your thoughts or you become riddled with anxiety.  It’s during these silent moments that we oftentimes begin to panic.  While silence can certainly feel disturbing at times, there are also many benefits to pauses in your presentation.  In fact, speakers can improve the quality of their speeches by inserting dramatic pauses from time to time.  The ability to pause is an important skill for any presenter to learn, and while it may seem simple, it can actually be quite a challenge.  Nonetheless, silence can prove to be your most powerful communication tool.

Pause When You Ask Questions

Have you ever been talking to someone who asks you a question but doesn’t give you the chance to respond before they start speaking again?  When this happens the question no longer seems genuine and can even leave you feeling confused.  Oftentimes speakers will do this during a presentation.  They ask a rhetorical question but move on to the next point without ever pausing.   A conversation is meant to be two-way.  Therefore, when you ask the audience questions you need to build in pauses as if you’re waiting for them to respond.  This makes you appear more genuine and makes the audience feel like you actually care about their response.

Pause During Your Introduction

Many presenters begin their presentation with a statement such as “thank you for that great introduction” or “I’m really glad to be here.”  You should pause for about 3 seconds after making one of these statements.  This gives the audience a chance to focus on you and it helps to build a little drama into your introduction.

Pause When You Make a Key Point

The key points are critical for a reason…you want to make sure the audience hears them.  The only way to know that you audience has heard your point is to stop talking and watch their eyes.  Pause until you can see by their reaction that the point has landed.  Once you know you have gotten your point across you will know that you paused long enough.  This pause adds drama and emphasis to your point and will capture the attention of the audience, helping them to comprehend what you have just said. 

Pause During Transitions

The transition pause acts much like a period would in a sentence.  It helps the speaker to separate one thought from another.  When a speaker continues talking without every stopping to pause, it’s much like reading a run-on sentence.  It is simply too much information for the audience to process and the information becomes jumbled and confusing.  Since audiences are unable to process too much information too quickly, it is important for the speaker to pause for about 1-2 seconds as they transition from one point to another.

Pause to Reflect

There are times when a speaker wants their audience to reflect.  Perhaps they have just given them a staggering statistic or they made an unusual statement.  The speaker should pause for a about 3-7 seconds to indicate to the audience, “I want you to think about that.” 

The art of the pause is an important one for speakers to learn and develop.  A speaker’s message is not only conveyed by their words, but also by their pauses.  The ability to incorporate pauses into your presentation will make you a more powerful and persuasive presenter.