Communication skills

The power of the pause

- August 25, 2011 2 MIN READ

Have you ever listened to a speaker who says ‘um’ or ‘ah’ a lot? These are called fillers, and we often use them subconsciously or when we’re nervous.

I once listened to a speaker whose whole presentation was peppered with fillers. It became quite distracting. Most people use a few, but this person went to the extreme. Every ‘real’ word was followed by one or two fillers. I don’t remember his message, but to this day his fillers are still prominent in my mind.

Many people don’t realise that they’re using fillers until it’s pointed out to them. Once you’re aware of them, you can work to reduce them in your presentations, or even eliminate them altogether.

Impact of fillers

Fillers such as ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘you know’, ‘so’, and ‘like’ are used in a speech or presentation to allow the speaker time to think.

Over-use of them weakens your phrases, becomes distracting for your audience and results in the messages in your presentation having less impact or even getting lost.

Using the pause

In the movie The King’s Speech, there’s a scene where King George VI is preparing to address the British people as war has just been declared on Germany. While coaching the king through the speech, his speech therapist Lionel Logue advises that he ‘Turn the hesitations into pauses. Long pauses are good. They add solemnity to great occasions.’

Want more articles like this? Check out the  presentation skills section.

This is true for any speech or presentation. Powerful speakers use the pause effectively.

Pausing can help your presentation in other ways too.

For example, pausing after a key point brings focus to your point. It gives your audience a chance to think about what you’ve said too, and that means they’re more likely to be able to recall the key points of your message later.

At the same time, pausing allows you to re-gain your composure, giving you time to think while minimising the fillers.

It also slows down your pace and gives you a chance to breathe so that you can use your voice more effectively to deliver your message.

Don’t mind the gap

Our sense of time changes under pressure. When we’re speaking to a group our rapid heart rate tricks us into feeling that every second we’re not speaking for is a minute long. No wonder many people feel uncomfortable using pauses when speaking. A pause can seem like an eternity.

Rest assured that your audience will gain from your willingness to pause. Your message will more likely be remembered and the experience will be more enjoyable for those listening.

Even better, you’ll find that with practise your judicious use of the pause will replace those annoying fillers.

Do you make the most of the power of the pause? Please don’t hesitate to share your experience or tips below.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

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