Stop Avoiding Pauses and Use Them

the main content 

 today we’re going to talk about

pausing in speeches and the natural tendency

we have to try and avoid them when speaking publicly

Pause avoidance syndrome is the active attempt by a speaker

to avoid silence while speaking

How many of you think the most terrifying thing about public speaking

is possibly forgetting what you will say

and standing silent in front of an audience?

Part of this feeds into our desire not to have silence

Empty space

It feels so unnatural to be standing in front of an audience

with now words coming out of our mouths

and yet that is exactly what we need sometimes 

How do people fill the silence of a speech?

Often it is with an ummm or an errrr or an uhhhh

In China I often hear students say nega

All these are sounds that we may intone

that mean nothing and distract from our speech

It may irritate the audience since it is needless noise interrupting your speech

So why does it feel unnatural?

Again this is part of our expertise in private conversation

During conversations you may hear noises like this

to indicate when someone has started

In conversation when someone finishes speaking

you may not be quite ready with what you will say

But you don’t want the other person to think

that you are not going to speak

You may say ummm or uhhh to signal that you are about to speak

These noises are cues that you know it is your turn

and that you are about to start speaking

Additionally you may speak and then stop but want to say more

As you think about how you are going to say it

you may intone ummm or errrrr in order to signal to your partner

that you are NOT done yet

You do not want them to jump in to the conversation

and start speaking so you use a noise to stop the silence

The silence indicates that you are done speaking

and it is the other person’s turn 

So this is an artifact of speaking in private

When speaking publicly these issues do not apply

Everyone in the audience knows you are speaking

They will not interrupt you

They know that the speech is over when you tell them it is over

Before then they will assume that you are continuing

So do not ummm uhhhh or errrr to fill the space

There is nothing to fear

If you do ummm and errrr it will be a distraction

it will be irritating and undermine your authority

I have had a professor before who did these things

Every class I would get so caught up in his noises

that I began to count and keep a written tally

every time he made one of these sounds

Do not give your audience reason to do the same

Since we are not going to make those sounds anymore

what should you do instead?

Pause with purpose

Use silence to be a tool for creating emphasis

controlling the pace of your speaking

for thinking of what to say next

and for giving your audience a break to digest important pieces of information

Pausing is a extremely useful and powerful tool

To begin with

pausing at the end of an important sentence

that you have been building up to in your volume

creates an air of importance

It juxtaposes silence and loud volume

Silence can in fact be deafening

Use that moment you’ve created

to look at your audience and stare them down

Tell them with your eyes

This …is …important

Remember too that you are in control of your speech

The speech moves as fast as you want it to

Pauses again reinforce your authority

You can stop the speech whenever you want to

and you can start it whenever you want to

Sometimes you may forget exactly what you are going to say next

and need a moment to recover

Do not freak out

Simply close your mouth

look meaningfully at the audience and take a moment to think calmly

Begin when you are ready

Even if it takes a while

and it seems like it is taking a long time to you

it may actually seem like a very short time to the audience

Time always moves more quickly when you are under pressure

Be confident that you have time
Lastly pausing is an extremely useful way to allow the audience

time to understand what you’ve said

You cannot speak consistently through an entire speech

The audience will not be able to catch up

They will be overwhelmed with words

Instead pause

Take a moment and let your audience breathe

Let them think about what you’ve said

If you do not then they will have more words

pushing the words you just told them out of their minds

You will defeat yourself

Pausing is an important tool for all speakers

You may be familiar with how say President Barack Obama speaks

He is well known for using pauses throughout his speeches

Let’s take a look at a clip from his speech

the night he won the election for President of the United States


In this clip you may have noticed

how Obama pauses at the end of phrases

or how he pauses in between items when he is listing them

In particular when he says

“by people who waited… 3 hours and 4 hours…”

then paused before continuing

He also went through a long list where he spoke more quickly

and then at the very end of the clip

he stopped and paused and waited

This was for dramatic effect and at this point people cheered

People will not always cheer when you pause for dramatic effect

but they will listen and they will appreciate the emphasis

They will understand that you feel this is important

They will also feel like you are in control

you are the expert you are confident

These are all good things

Elevate your speaking using pauses

and do your best to try and eliminate

any unnecessary sounds or noise from your public speaking

I hope you have enjoyed this video and will try your best to pause…

Join me next time when we discuss vocal dynamics