March 8, 2012
CRITERION #5: PAUSING
What you don’t say can be more powerful
than what you do.
In my writing, you’ll notice I make liberal use (too liberal, my copy editor would say) of… the ellipsis – those three, unassuming, but oh-so-powerful… little dots. I do a lot of speechwriting, so whenever (and whatever) I write, I tend to think about how the words will sound spoken in the air. And those three little dots are my way of inserting a Pause… into the stream of words.
I wrote previously that Pacing is the single most overlooked criterion of effective public speaking, but I am convinced that it is Pausing which is the most undervalued. They are closely connected, but are not quite the same thing. Pacing refers to the overall dynamics of a complete delivery. Pausing is a topical technique that can be applied in very specific places with very specific results.
Pause for effect…
It’s really a very, very simple trick. And here’s the secret – you simply stop talking.
The next time you are engaged in a conversation with someone you know, trying inserting some extra long pauses into your side of the conversation. I guarantee it will have a dramatic effect. What will happen is that the longer you pause, the more expectant your listeners become. They move forward in their seats. Literally. You can actually see it happen in a room when you are delivering a speech. And delivering your important points to someone on the edge of their seat is a lot better than delivering to someone slouched back, looking at the ceiling… and fading fast.
It is absolutely true that what you don’t say in a speech is more important than what you do. If you know that pausing is going to get the audience’s attention, then you need to pick the points in your speech when you most want them to be most alert and listening. And pause… and then make your point. There are two options for planning those pauses. You can pause just before you make your point; or, just after. Each has a slightly different effect, and can be used for a slightly different purpose.
If you pause before, you it’s like you have led someone down the garden path, and you’ve reached the gate to a special bed of flowers (which you’ve been talking about on the way down)… but you’re increasing their anticipation by making them wait . It’s a measure of control in your hands that can be used to great effect. And it increases the impact of what is finally revealed.
If you pause after you’ve said what you want to say – something emphatic, preferably - you just wait. What happens is that your audience has time for reflection… without being immediately prodded on to the next thought. When this happens, you – on-stage - can almost hear their brains working. And, you can see realization dawning on their faces. It’s like telling the kind of joke that requires a beat or two before ‘the penny drops’.
Most untrained speakers are afraid of Pausing. It makes them uncomfortable to stop the flow of words and pause for effect. Even when they try it, many speakers get scared by the results. People in the audience suddenly move forward in their seats and get engaged in the speech… focusing their attention very directly on the speaker. The mood becomes electric. And that can be scary.
It’s my job to get people to relax when they feel the electricity start to happen. I push them to move out of their comfort zone.