Alan Alda says, “It is the space between the lines that make it a great performance.”
Never underestimate the power of the pause. This is true in acting as well as in speaking and music. A message, for instance a radio commercial or an eLearning module isn’t just conveyed with words, it’s with your pauses.
Used strategically, it’s a tool to help you build an intellectual and emotional connection with your audience. A pause gives your audience or listener time to process what you said. It helps your listener stay engaged and follow what comes next. If you tend to speak rapidly, allowing adequate time for pauses becomes even more important.
There are several types of pauses to enhance your speech when you present, or if you are a voice talent, create more meaning in your reads. I’ll leave a several ways how a pause can create more engagement, power, and connection to your listener, but first, the power of the pause in our everyday lives.
This past February, Super Bowl Sunday evening, to be specific, my husband and I were driving home from my sister’s house, where we watched the first half. As we traveled westward on a divided road, only a half mile from our home, our car was hit by an oncoming vehicle crossing from south to north.
Events unfolded in both slow motion and in an instant. The sound of metal crunching into metal, glass shattering, the bang and thud of the crash, the sudden jolt of pain that accompanied my seat belt pushing up against my rib cage to hold me in. The car spun 180 degrees in the center of the intersection until the squeal of breaks stopped and we found our car backed onto the sidewalk in front of – of all places – the town’s public safety building.
A kind motorist who witnessed the accident, told us the other driver run the red light, and to stay put until help arrived. Police cars, fire engines and an ambulance arrived within seconds, to take my husband, who hit his head, to the hospital. Because our dog was with us, I was prevented from riding with him. An officer drove me home.
Although both my husband and I sustained minor injuries, I’m happy to report we’re fine. Suffice it to say, we did not see the conclusion of the football game.
Seeing our totaled Outback perched on a curb, its entire front end lying in the street, was sobering and traumatic. We visited our respective doctors, were prescribed physical therapy, and processed our luck at surviving the crash. We also took stock of our lives, and all the profound questions that follow.
We decided to take trips, immerse ourselves in passions and hobbies, spend more time with friends. We pressed pause on all the ‘busy work’ and extraneous activities that take time and space in life to actually live your life.
We all need times to pause, reflect and replenish. In our case, circumstances created a way to do it for us. The life pause can be a filling station, one to fuel up on what we need to assess where we have been and where we want to go next, to clarify, purge what no longer serves, start to build something new and return to those things we’ve already established and wish to continue with a renewed sense of purpose.
I often reflect on the concept of living as a human being, rather than a human doing. The poet
Or in the words of poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
I wish you the same.
And now, as promised, some practical tips and variety of well-timed pauses to employ to make your speech or performance great, according to Executive Coach, Patricia Fripp.
The sense pause is roughly where a comma would be in writing; however, it occurs about twice as often. It is more frequent than the comma because in writing, if your audience cannot understand something, they can reread it. Since this isn’t possible in speaking, you must allow time for your audience to process. This is a way of grouping words into shorter sentences and phrases so the audience can keep up with what you are saying. This pause usually lasts from one-half to one second.
The transition pause is where a period would be in writing. It separates one thought from another. Many speakers are unaware that they are speaking in run-on sentences. Audiences are not able to process rapid speech as well as we might think they can, especially if the content is unusual, emotional, poetic, dramatic, or new. This pause lasts between one to two seconds.
A dramatic pause is used to set up and spotlight what you will say next. For example, “Do you know what happened . . .?” (Pause, pause, pause.) This heightens tension in your narrative and gets the audience involved. You must highlight a dramatic pause by following it with a statement that rewards your audience for following along with you. A dramatic pause can last anywhere from three to seven seconds.
A reflective pause gives your audience time to think. Complex or unusual statements need to be followed by time for reflection. This type of pause says to your audience, “This is important. Take a moment and think about it,” or “I’ve left a space for you to think . . ..” A reflective pause can last from three to seven seconds.
Pause for Effect
A pause for effect is shorter, usually just one to two seconds. It creates the feeling that something is going to happen and lets words hang in the air so the audience can play with them in their minds.
These next four are advanced uses of the pause that you can implement to add finesse to your public speaking.
This pause creates a feeling of spontaneity. It is a technique that suggests you are thinking about your words as you are speaking and not simply reciting something you have said many times before. This will keep you and your audience members interested, even if you are actually very familiar with what you are saying.
Pause to Relinquish Control
This pause is particularly useful in Q & A situations. When responding to a question, it is easy to begin rambling or repeating yourself and weakening your response. Nail your response to the question, and then pause to indicate you are finished speaking.
I often direct an open hand gesture toward the audience member while I listen to and answer their question. After my answer, I sweep my open hand to the rest of the audience to invite other questions.
Use this pause to support a description that appeals to the senses. For example, “A beautiful warm afternoon,” (pause) . . . “Imagine it,” (pause) . . . “Willows softly rustling in the breeze,” (pause) . . . “Birds chirping in the trees,” (pause) . . . “Sitting with a cold glass of lemonade in your hand,” (pause) . . .. Create a heightened feeling in your audience by pausing to allow their senses to take hold.
Pause for Emphasis
The musician Robert Fripp, has said, “The enemy of the speaker is sameness.”That can be speaking at the same time, tone, pace, and energy level for too long. Repetitive hand gestures and movements. The overuse of words or phrases.
Our audiences are stimulation junkies with short attention spans. When we add variety to our presentations and orchestrate our comments, we are more likely to keep their attention longer. Use pauses to delineate your key points. Keep your presentation dynamic so your audience does not get lulled to sleep. Use pauses as one technique to break audience distraction.