Silence is golden – Why pauses in your speech say more than words

The skill of a great speaker comes from not only knowing what to say, but knowing when to stop talking.

Pauses during in a speech emphasise key points, add gravitas, and even gives the audience time to get a joke! In short pausing can add more to your speech than the words themselves.

In our time, no one demonstrates this technique more powerfully than Obama. Watch the 1st few minutes of Obama’s presidential acceptance speech to see how he uses pauses to excite the crowd. Imagine if Obama had stood at the podium and rushed through the speech. Of course, it would still have been powerful (he knows the benefit of hiring a good speech writer, afterall!) But would it have hung in the memory quite the same way? Would it have built to the mighty climax at the end of the paragraph? Would the crowd have cheered quite as much when he finally stated that “tonight, is your answer.”

Pauses are one of the most powerful tools a speaker has. They can change a speech from an everyday one to one that is remembered forever. And they are remarkably easy to do.

Punctuation Pauses

The easiest way to put pauses into a speech is to break at punctuation. Whenever you hit a comma, or a fullstop, stop and pause for a moment before carrying on.

The general guideline is to pause for 1 second at every comma, 2 seconds at every full stop (or similar end of sentence mark – :;!?), and 3 seconds for a paragraph break.

Give it a try on the passage below from the “Wind in the willows”. Read it out-loud, pausing for 1 second at every red punctuation mark and for 2 seconds at every blue one.

“It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting, everything happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering “whitewash!” he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.

 Adding your own pauses.

Once you get used to pausing during a speech you can start to add your own pauses to add extra emphasis.

Mark up your speech / like this, / with pauses marked in / at every conceivable point. / Read it out loud / whispering at first, / stopping to breathe at every mark. / Feel the rhythm of the sentences, / the music of the speech / the poetry of your words.

Then try it a little louder, / still breathing at every pause, / taking a moment to consider each phrase, / each message, / as if every word is worthy of it’s own moment / of consideration. / As you rehearse you may find some points where you don’t need to pause so often, / where the words can glide off your lips for a whole phase, /dancing like leaves on the breeze until you suddenly slow and make the final words even / more / powerful.

Give it a go. Take out your speech, add in some pauses and see how much better it sounds when you read it out loud. Let me know below if it works for you.


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