Good speakers pause. After they finish one thought, they don’t rush to the next sentence. They don’t rattle off useless verbal fillers (uh, ah, um, well, so, right, hmm). Instead, they embrace that millisecond of silence, harness the awkwardness, and force the listener to pay attention. Many people call it the pregnant pause.
In 2008, my employer paid for me to attend a 3 day coaching session on effective public speaking. It was professionally run and cost approximately $2,600 per person. We learned the nuances of posture, eye contact, voice inflection and gesturing. We practiced constantly. The facilitators shot video of us and gave feedback. However, the most common feedback, was also the most basic:
Don’t forget to pause
There are many reasons to pause:
- Gives you a breath and more oxygen to your brain
- Gives you time to structure your thought, less stream-of-consciousness blathering
- Prevents you from, um, putting in, uh, useless filler words
- Creates drama in your speech, changes the inflection, improves the syntax
- Breaks up the droning effect of continuous speaking
- Allows you to do a pulse check on the audience (Are they getting bored?)
- Gives your words more heft and makes you sound more decisive
Listen to good speakers and how they effectively use pauses
- Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conference
- Steve Job’s speech at the 2005 Stanford Commencement
- History Channel’s compilation of 100+ US Presidential speeches
Listen to yourself by calling up your own phone number and leaving yourself a message. Essentially record yourself presenting. Then listen to the voice mail and count the number of fillers (uh, um, like, hmm) and number of good pauses.
Keep practicing the pauses. Practice even when you are talking with coworkers, friends and family. Just don’t tell them you are practicing. They might charge you.