When the Pause Becomes Ineffective in Public Speaking

Published: 17th June 2009
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The other day I heard a speaker who was very dynamic in his delivery except in one respect. He paused too often and for too long. Without a doubt, pausing is one of the most important characteristics of good public speaking: pausing that is excessive or predictable is not.

The beauty of the pause is that it allows you, the speaker:

  • to take a quick breath thereby supplementing your air supply;

  • to be more expressive in your delivery;

  • to briefly think (and I mean brief);

  • to move in a new direction.

There are some, however, who actually abuse this aspect of their delivery by pausing too often or far too long. If your audience can begin to predict your pauses or is tempted to start timing them, then you need to make a change.

What was happening with the speaker I heard recently, was that he was pausing to see his audience's reaction to him - almost begging for a smile or a laugh or applause. Speakers who are 'asking' for a response like that are too self-absorbed. If fact, I can take that a step further. Because his entire presentation was memorized, he knew from experience which of his statements produced reactions; therefore, he was determined to make his audience respond to him with his scripted pauses.

In teaching public speaking, I advise my students and my clients not to mark their scripts with smiley faces, places to breathe, or any other symbol. If you approach your speech or presentation with these types of directions, then you are acting. Your objective in public speaking is not to act; your goal is to speak publicly.

The pause in public speaking is exactly like the pause in normal conversation. And, similar to normal discourse in which you pause while speaking, if you can learn to treat your audience just as if you were have a conversation in your living room, you will then find yourself pausing naturally.

If you are breaking after every 4 or 5 words, then your speech is choppy and becomes sing-song which is tedious for your listeners. This is where recording yourself in practice can be so valuable. A good exercise to eliminate choppy speech is to read an audio book along with the professional reader so that you can familiarize yourself with speaking in longer phrases before pausing - just like the professional.

If, on the other hand, you pause for audience appreciation, then your presentation is an affectation. Don't wait for your audience's response - allow it to happen naturally.

The pause is normal; the pause is natural; the pause is a necessity in public speaking. Use it but don't abuse it!

The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels offer private, group and corporate training in voice and presentation skills as well as Voicing It!, the only video training program on voice improvement. Visit her website at Voice Dynamic and watch as Nancy describes the best means of controlling nervousness in any form of public speaking.

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