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The Power of a (wait for it)...PAUSE

I am more convinced than ever, as I travel through life, of the power of either an accidental PAUSE, or a well-timed PAUSE.

How a moment of silence becomes so difficult to create is the fodder for many a training session.  I would guess we all know someone we would describe as, “comfortable with silence”, and others who fill every interaction with words (or non-words like “uh’s or um’s). I was always someone who started to fidget during those pregnant pauses in a conversation, but I’ve changed. I now recognize the Power of a…PAUSE!

As a coach, I’m constantly reminding my clients to slow down, space their words and pause between thoughts. While they make an effort, nervousness, lack of preparation or just the terror of silence usually pushes them on to the next word.

When we do experience a nice pause as an audience member, it jerks us to attention. Think about when that’s happened to you in life. The dead air of a radio station, the moment just prior to the punch line of a joke, the silence that interrupts the pilots landing announcement. We’re refocused. We’re riveted. We’re waiting.
I was watching the U.S. Open Golf Tournament at Augusta last month. Sergio Garcia was in a one-hole playoff for the championship with Justin Rose. The crowd was hushed. Sergio’s winning putt lingered on the lip of the cup for just a moment before falling in. The crowd went wild. That golf ball’s pause had created tension, exactly what a pause does during a presentation.

Pauses allow audiences to take a breath, to absorb information or to prepare for what comes next.Pauses come in two forms:accidental and well-timed. The accidental pauses freak out presenters and delight audiences. In working with presenters, I hear phrases like, “I lost my place.”, or “I forgot what I was going to say next.” “It felt like an eternity before I got back on track.” When they view the video recording, the pause is no more than a few seconds. Not an eternity. Just enough time for the audience to refocus.

What so many presenters do when they lose their place, or search for a forgotten word or phrase, is to spill their thoughts. “I’m sorry, I’ve lost my place.” “Gee, I can’t remember where I was.” What they need to do is just be quiet! Allow the silence to linger.

Li Ang, a contemporary Taiwanese writer, was quoted as saying, “Many a pair of curious ears has been lured by that well-timed pause.” That well-timed pause takes planning and practice. So how do you plan a pause? Here are three strong placements or a welcome pause:
  1. As you stand before an audience, take a breath and say, “Good Morning”, and pause. That gives your audience a chance to focus on you and prepare for what you have to say. It gives you a moment to gather your composure and focus on the audience.
  2. Pause after a rhetorical question that opens your presentation. “How many of you have tried being without your smart phone for an hour, (pause) a day, (pause) or an entire vacation?” Pause Pause Pause. Now the audience is imagining the magnitude of your question for themselves. Tie the question to the purpose of your presentation. “I’m here to talk with you about how this technology is designed to be addictive and how we can overcome that addiction.”
  3. Pause just before you answer a question. Let that silence signal your willingness to think about your answer. The length of that pause is the barometer of your confidence level.
Practice well-timed pauses with your friends, your colleagues and your audiences. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how they listen more carefully when you say nothing at all. To reinforce these ideas, watch this short video on pauses and pacing.

If you want help with your pauses, or any other aspect of creating or delivering a persuasive presentation, contact Red Cup Presentations today. (pause)

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