One of my favorite communication quotes is this one:
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain
Pausing, or the simple act of stop talking, is a skill that most of us take for granted, I know I did.
When I started my speaking career I was eager to learn how to speak with power, influence and energy. Because I wanted to learn how to MOVE people into action, how to connect with my audience emotionally, I researched everywhere. I studied many fields like: sales, influence, psychology, leadership, NLP, communication, etc.
Obviously I wanted to know what was cutting edge, what was new in the influence and persuasion field. I realized really fast that there are a lot of great strategies out there, and thanks to writers and influencers that are willing to share them, I was able to learn a fair amount of ideas.
However, If I were to stop and look back the last 11 years of my career, I noticed that I did not explore one strategy as much as I could or should. This is one of the simplest and most natural influence strategies available to all of us: pausing. Because it is so simple, easy and we all know how to do it, we assume we do it well.
Pausing is just like so many other simple skills in life like walking, cooking, riding a bike, listing – we think we know how to do them until we see a professional really executing them at a higher level. Then, we realize there are more useful distinctions to learn about that subject that can improve our effectiveness at that skill.
Why should you improve your pausing skills?
- Because it is something that you are already know how to do
- Because it is something that you do pretty much every day
- Because your communication can be even more effective once you improve your pausing skills, even if you get 1% better
- Because you can apply this information right after you are done reading this article
To help explain to you the benefits of pausing, I created an acronym called “PAUSES”.
P = Power: Pausing at the right moment can give you control. For example, if you are about to do a group presentation to a live audience and when someone introduces you right away, don’t start speaking. Instead pause for 3 -5 seconds and you will control the room immediately. It is really a magical strategy because now the entire audience is focusing on your message. James Humes, speech writer for 4 American Presidents said: “Every second you wait will strengthen the impact of your opening words…Stand, stare and command your audience, they will bend their ears to listen”.
Remember this, when you pause at the beginning of your presentation, your audience will be waiting for you to start and you have the control of the room. Pausing equals power.
A = Attention: As described above, pausing gives you the power to control the room momentarily. Once you establish that control you can direct the audience’s attention to anything you want. For example, you can pause and look outside the window (well, your audience will follow your clue and look outside the window). Or you can pause and point to your projection screen and obviously your audience’s attention will follow your lead. As you may have experienced, this attention is short-lived if what you are directing your audience to has no value to them.
U = Understanding: Sometimes presenters have the tendency to get way to excited about their content and overwhelm the audience with information. They want to share “everything they know” about a specific topic. Pausing, between your content, can help the audience to assimilate your ideas. For example, you can ask a very important question like “What is the danger, cost or consequence for you personally if you don’t change this situation immediately?” followed by a long pause allowing your audience to internalize that message.
S = Slowing down: Pausing can help you to change the tempo, or the speed of your delivery. Some people speak faster than others. For example Steven “Steve” Woodmore listed in the Guinness World Records, can speak 637 words per minute (the fast-talking category has been eliminated from current editions of the book). The average person speaks around 120 – 180 per minutes. One of my biggest struggles when presenting is speaking way too fast. It is a very bad habit specially for a guy with a thick accent like mine. Now, I am really aware of this challenge and not only I try to reduce my tempo, but I also try to include more pauses during my presentation so it “slows down” the presentation a bit.
E = Emphasis: Pausing at the right time and at the right amount will give emphasis to a particular message you are conveying. You can predetermine specific messages that you want to emphasize and include pauses before and after the message. Let me give you an example :
“When you use XYZ you will most likely increase your listing presentation conversion in average by 15%
This is important, let me repeat. When you integrate the XYZ tools into your business you will most likely experience a 15% increase in your listing presentations
How many of you would like to learn more about XYZ?
S = Significance: Do you remember Maslow Hierarchy (Physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization and self transcendence)? Whether you agree with his theory or not, there is one thing he got right. Human beings have this need to feel respected and valued by others (esteem). I know what you are thinking. “What does self-esteem have to do with pausing?”
Let me answer that by giving you an example.
Let’s say you go to a seminar and you are learning a brand new subject. In the middle of the program you ask a question to the the instructor and right before you finish the sentence he already gives you a fast answer. How do you feel? What are the thoughts that came into your mind? (“my question is not important”, “I am the only one who did not know this”, “he gave me a standard answer”). As you can see, pausing before you answer someone’s question communicates that you care, that the person is important and that you took the time to think about a proper answer.
Now that you know the major benefits of pausing, let’s talk about when to pause to make your communication even more effective.
Before you start speaking: When doing a group presentation, pause for 3 – 5 seconds and smile. You will control the room immediately. Example: (pause)…..”Once upon a time….”
Before and after a quote: “One of the greatest speakers of all time, Jim Rohn, once said: (pause) You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.” (pause)
Before and after an important point or a punch line: “One of the most important lessons that I have learned is this one (pause) in life you don’t get what you want, you get what you are committed to (pause)”
Before and after an important question: “Here is a question for you to reflect upon (pause) what would do if you knew you could not fail? (pause)..the first time I heard this question I did not have an answer for it”
Before answering a question: Person A: “In your opinion, how can I implement this strategy into my business?” (pause) Person B: “There are couple of ways….”
When transitioning from one subject to another: “…and that is our first strategy to help you increase your sales. (pause) Our second strategy has to do with…”
When asking a question and evoking an answer: “Who would like to share a success story? (pause)….”
When showing something to your audience or using a prop: How would you use this? (show them something and pause)
In the middle of a sentence to evoke audience participation: “plop, plop, fizz, fizz (pause and use body language to get audience to complete)
To hold an emotional estate: “Can you remember a time in your life when you were afraid? (pause) What were you doing specifically that cause you to be fearful? (pause)”
Acting: “… and she looked at me with that “deer-in-the-headlisghts look” (pause and make that face)
As you can see, there are many applications for pausing, and I am sure you can come up with many more ideas to add to this list. The key is to become aware of this simple tool and off course, use it. As Alan Alda says, “It is the stuff between the lines that makes it a great performance.”