Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are We Over-Pausing?


The Pause.

The Pause that Refreshes.

The Pause that Emphasizes.

The Pause that....


that may now be overemphasized.

I'm a big fan of the pause - there are a lot of good uses for it, as I said in The Speaking Pause Parts I & II. But lately, it seems like the pause is becoming bigger than the content they're meant to draw attention to - at least in the circles I've been running in. Are today's speakers in danger of over-correcting?

Granted, we live in a fast-paced world, and it's tough to get anyone to slow down long enough to let their words sink in. But if you're reading this, you're already a speaker, and are likely already applying 'best practices' of public speaking. You're seeking out feedback left and right - and the use of pauses tends to be a 'pet' cause for many coaches and Toastmasters.

So, before you over-correct right into the wall, let the following give you pause....

2 Major Dangers of the Pause

1. Over-Pausing. Use anything too often and you'll end up abusing it. Too many pauses dilutes the impact of each, and can cost you energy and credibility. Pauses can add dramatic effect in some instances, but they can also be seen as manipulative when over-used. Eventually the audience will tune the pauses out, or worse, use them to tune you out tune in to something else - like telling people how much you pause on the Twitter back channel as they type into their smartphone!

2. Pausing Too Long. This is a tough one to gauge. Internally, pauses last a lot longer than they do out in the audience. It's common for people to recommend you elongate your pauses in certain spots. How long is too long? Video yourself and watch. Listen and watch the audience. Don't start talking out of nervousness, but don't keep pausing because you want a 6 second pause no matter what. Let the audience help guide your silence.

While there is a place for dramatics in professional speaking, keep in mind you're still there to speak, not to ACT. Acting may help you tell your story, but if the whole speech is acting, filled with dramatic pauses and mugging the audience, you're performing a skit with a point, vs. a speech with a story.

Pauses have their place, and are a powerful tool, but any power must be used wisely if it is to be used well.


  1. Don't forget about variety. Yes, yes. Variety in a speech or presentation, but there is also variety in comparison to everyone else out there. At least from the perspective of your audience.

    Example 1: I often sit through a days worth of sales presentations. 7 presenter teams in a row. Each sounding the same as the next. If you are the last presenter of the day and I'm tired and looking to leave, the best way to make yourself forgettable is to sound just like one through six. No matter what good techniques they use.

    Example 2: Look at the techniques in common use in any given time frame. If this year everyone sounds like Tony Robbins, and next year everyone sounds like Steve Siebold, you want to make sure you sound like yourself and unique/interesting. Change it up and be better. Keep yourself learning to do things better. Especially if in year three everyone decides to sound like you because you stood out in years 1 and 2.

  2. Rich:

    Another great post! When used sparingly pauses can be devastating.

    I still remember back when I was in high school about 45 years ago that Al Julius, then the news director at KQV-AM in Pittsburgh, used to close his commentaries with a simple: This-----is Al Julius. That single five-second pause (where all you could hear was the teletype machine clattering faintly in the background) stood out like a mountain above all the disc jockeys - who were deathly afraid of leaving any dead air.

    Richard Garber

  3. Never thought about it that way, Rich.

    Thanks for the insight!



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