8 Powers of the Pause

The most powerful part of communication is not what you say. Words are what you give to the listener, but power is not something a speaker can give away. Power is something the listener feels for themselves.

One simple public speaking secret: pauses produce power.

Not speaking can be so powerful that silence and/or pausing is one of the few presentation techniques that incorporates the psychology of ALL 8 of the SpeechDeck principles. In this post we’ll look at 8 types of pauses, one for each of the 8 principles.

C Clarify Your Content

The obvious purpose of communication or a presentation is to convey a message. You want the listener to UNDERSTAND. To clarify a verbal message, you must simplify it into a single takeaway message that I call a HEADLINE.

Just like in a newspaper, a headline must be bigger, bolded, and emphasized more than everything else. The easiest way to emphasize the most important words are with pausing.

Whenever you say your headline statement, stop talking!

Pause long enough for the message to sink in and be understood. Without the pause (or some other form of emphasis), all your sentences are created equal and your communication has no clear takeaway message.

With the pause, you add power. For example, if this blog post were a speech, my headline would be:

Pauses produce power …

I would pause for a few seconds every time I said that line.

A Inject Anticipation

You want your audience to be INTERESTED in what you have to say. You inject anticipation by creating UNCERTAINTY.

This is one of the hardest public speaking skills for many. There are many types of uncertainty, but perhaps the simplest form is a lack of words–the pause.

Only once in my adult life did I fear for my life, and it was on the way to church …

The pause at the transition creates intense interest, because you don’t know what I’m going to say next.

I can add an anticipatory pause to the same headline statement discussed above:

My point today is this … pauses produce power …

By adding a pre-pause before my keyword phrase, I create a sense of anticipation for what I will say next. With the pre-pause and the post-pause, I’ve created bookends of silence around my most important words.

R Develop Relationships

How do you use the pause to build RAPPORT?

Developing a relationship is a presentation skill based on what you have in COMMON with the listener. A relationship pause, therefore would be about making your pauses mirror and match the audience.

I’m a fast talker. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the mistake of opening a seminar at hyperspeed when my audience was operating at the speed of a morning hangover.

The energy of your audience is defined in large part by how silent they are. How do they pause? Deliberation? Tired? Bored? Contemplative? Slow? Fast? Frequent? Never?

Whenever, however, why-ever they pause, you should pause the same way–at least at the beginning–and you’ll instantly have more in common and create a deeper connection.

M Reveal the Messenger

If you want RESPECT, you must reveal something UNIQUE about yourself. A huge part of your uniqueness is your expertise and experience.

People with unique passion and knowledge sometimes speak fast, but more importantly, true experts are not afraid of NOT talking. A true authority on a subject will not be afraid of the questions or distractions that might be raised in the silence.

If you stand in the spotlight–and look uncomfortable in silence–you are not in control.

If you can stand in the spotlight–in total silence–you prove your authority. I establish authority at the beginning of almost every public speaking opportunity or class by standing in the front of the room in silence staring down my audience for a few seconds. Here’s a link where I discuss the science of this exact topic in more detail.

P Encourage Participation

Participation is all about getting a REACTION from the listener. If you don’t give them time to react, you won’t get COMPLIANCE.

For example, consider the following question, asked in many forms by countless motivational speakers:

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Do you actually have an answer in mind? Or did you just read the question and then keep reading this next paragraph. Lots of mediocre speakers ask good questions. Only excellent speakers follow that question with enough time for the listener to actually react.

Leave time to follow your instructions.
Leave time to answer your question.
Leave time to laugh at your joke.

Pause long enough to get a REACTION.

I Empower the Individual

You want your message to be RELEVANT to the listener. Therefore, you must PERSONALIZE.

In other words, it’s more effective for the listener to persuade themselves to your argument than for you to try and force your argument.

Earlier, I added a pause after my headline sentence so that the listener could clearly understand the takeaway message. An empowering pause is nearly the same, except it gives time for each individual listener to articulate their own takeaway headline.

For example, here’s Hillary Clinton:

We’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for President.

This was one of Hillary’s biggest applause lines when she accepted the Democrat party nomination for president. The Democratic audience forced her to pause with their applause, thus proving they were drawing their own conclusions.

The implication is that a nation that has had a woman president is “more perfect” and therefore she implies you should vote for her. Notice that she never says “vote for me because I’m a woman.”

Hillary’s speechwriter leaves that step out in an attempt to let you self-persuade. This has as much to do with speech writing as the actual public speaking skills of delivery.

In this case, the pause was very personalized for a Democratic audience. Republicans listening to the words likely drew different conclusions during the pause–but either way, the pause guided each listener’s internal self-persuasion to one conclusion or another.

T Manage the Theater

Creating FOCUS in a large theater or even a small conference room requires you to manage the SPACE.

When it comes to preparing your space for silence, your concern will be for any extraneous sounds that might fill that space when you stop talking.

When you stop talking, suddenly all competing noises from the room next door and the clickety clack of anyone on their computers or roaming the room in high heels will become obvious. Those distractions steal the focus away from you–especially when you’re quiet.

In that respect, a “theater” pause is a non-auditory pause–pausing with something more than just a lack of talking. To manage the theater during the pause you must fill your presentation venue with something that draws attention better than the competing distractions.

This means your pausing might be accompanied by visual aids, body language, background music, or other movements in space that keep the listener focused on YOUR pause rather than someone else’s lack of pause.

S Engage the Subconscious

Leaving a lasting IMPACT requires that each listener experience your message in their own subconscious.

Words by themselves don’t leave impact unless the listener consciously analyzes your words. Silence, on the other hand, forces the listener to feel something without any conscious effort.

You don’t have to be eloquent. All you have to do is pause after the most emotional words. Without the pause the listener only hears what you say. With the pause the listener also FEELS what you say:

I was teaching a day-long seminar on a hot afternoon in Washington. At our afternoon break, a graying, sixty-something gentleman walked up to me. In a muted whisper he revealed: “I just got a phone call, and my wife has died … … I’m going to have to leave …”

Stop talking after the most emotional words!

The Takeaway

Effective pausing may be one of the most important presentation skills you can develop. Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Practice the placement of persuasive pauses
because … proper pauses produce power! …

Now say that 5 times quickly without spitting.

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