How long should you pause when inserting a moment of silence in your presentations?
There are no hard-and-fast rules. Pauses can last a fraction of a second to several seconds. The length of your pause depends on your tone, message and style. Also factor in your audience, their patience and level of engagement.
In general, however, it’s best to vary the length of your pauses consistently throughout a speech. Don’t get into a pattern where the listener can predict how long your pause will last.
Experiment with varying lengths. Comma pauses for words tend to be briefer than sentence pauses, which are a bit shorter than your paragraph pauses.
I videotape many of my clients and, like a movie director, do several takes to see which one works best. It will seem awkward at first; most pauses do. However, once you master this technique, all other aspects of your delivery are bound to improve.
Take care not to overwork the pause, lest you sound rehearsed and stilted. Some speakers deliver everything they say with a pause attached. It’s as if each word they communicate could eradicate cancer or solve world hunger. Don’t fall into that trap. Use pauses judiciously. Sometimes less is more.
Try this piece of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, with pauses and without. Listen to the difference:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Pausing is perfectly natural. It’s how we breathe. So take the time to integrate words, punctuations and pauses as you communicate.
Many speakers are nervous, worried about how they will be perceived. They are also concerned they will be interrupted, only to throw off their own rhythm. Desperate to finish and get off the stage, they rush through the speech as if they are running late to catch the last plane out of town.
If you want to be understood and remembered, slow down. Take your time, pause where appropriate and let your natural vocal rhythms take over.
The best leaders, the ones who communicate power, are calm, collected and compelling. They speak with tremendous control, use pauses effectively, and convey confidence and conviction to their audience.
Remember the old maxim: Speak in such a way that others love to listen to you. Listen in such a way that others love to speak to you.
Chuck Garcia, a chuckgarcia.com., public speaking and sales coach, is author of A Climb to the Top: Communication & Leadership Tactics to Take Your Career to New Heights. Visit