I wonder if many people fully appreciate the value of pause in speech, how important it is in business dialogues. Given the number of people who fail to use pause effectively, I suspect not. Well, let’s pause for a moment and have a think about this:
· Undoubtedly pause gives meaning to what you are saying; it is the punctuation of speech.
· Pause gives people listening to you the time to absorb and assimilate that meaning. Listening to someone who doesn’t pause is profoundly fatiguing.
· It gives you time to evaluate what you have said as you speak, and most importantly to stay focussed on saying the right things. This is the foundation of brevity and the key to eliminating waffle! Vital if you are really going to engage your listeners and have them remember your words.
· A pause before you answer a question, or respond in a debate or meeting, not only gives you time to think (quite useful), but it shows you are considering the other persons words, that you have listened, are considering their point of view or suggestion, and are now considering the best way to respond. Your answer will now have significantly more credibility. Think about all those politicians who jump in, barely letting the interviewer or speaker finish what they are saying. Do they sound credible? Do they sound defensive? Is there a suspicion they are just giving us the party line, saying what their advisors have inculcated as the best response to give? OK you may not be in this situation, but your responses in conversation, in Q&A sessions must beconsidered and sound considered if you want them to be considered by people listening to you.
· Pause is the most effective form of emphasis; so much better than gestures like pointing, table thumping, finger counting and infinitely better than, heaven forbid that you should ever resort to it, volume! Say these sentences out loud:
o If you really want to emphasise a … word, pause before it.
o Alternatively if you want to emphasise a word … pause after it.
o You could even emphasise a … word … pausing both before and after it!
Now try again using a gesture to emphasise ‘word’ and then again using volume. Any of those are likely to be mildly aggressive, and certainly blunt. They don’t make good listening.
· You can draw out emotion by using pause. Wherever, whenever you speak, if you tap into your listeners’ emotions, their hearts not just their minds, they will listen, they will remember. If you say something surprising, exciting, shocking, pause at the end of the phrase. Allow the moment to sit, let emotions build. Good comedians are masters of pause. They of course are drawing out humour, but as an exercise, listen to them, see how they gauge the length of silence after a funny comment. We call this their timing and those that have good timing are funny; those whose timing is off are much less so.
· And finally, pause to breathe. Yes, truly! People speaking without effective pauses are unlikely to be breathing efficiently and sometimes will forget to breathe at all. Unable to unable to breathe well. (Incidentally, if you find yourself frequently reaching for drinks of water when speaking for any length of time, it is probably because you are not breathing well and your voice is drying out. So it may also indicate you are not pausing enough). Apart from being important to keep your voice well supported,good breathing; regular, not shallow breaths with occasional deeper breaths, helps you to keep a clear head. Quite literally it keeps a good supply of oxygen to the brain. If you want to maintain your composure, rely on strong confident body language and lightening quick mental alacrity…. pause and breathe!
Perhaps you think you do use pause?
It’s actually quite hard to judge a good pause as you are speaking, there is too much else to think about and the silence in a pause can feel like an age, it can be scary! It’s worth training yourself to use pause well: try reading out loud and record yourself. Play with your pauses: extend them, shorten them, get used to using them. Analyse your playback and decide what makes a good pause, what is too long, what isn’t enough? With practice, well-judged pauses will become instinctive. You and pause will be best friends.