To pause well, you need to know where / how frequently you should pause and how long you should pause. On the one hand, pausing very little makes it difficult for the audience to comprehend your content. On the other hand, a lot of pauses will make your presentation choppy and cause audience attention to drift. Good pausing lies between these two extremes; it all comes down to where to pause and how long to pause.
The answer is quite simple: follow punctuations. In printed text, punctuations are used to separate words so that we can read and comprehend. Same rule applies to punctuation in a speech.
The general guide to follow punctuations is to:
- Make a short pause of half second or less when you have a comma
- Make a medium pause for half second to one second when you have a period, question mark, or exclamation mark
- Make a long pause for one to two seconds when you finish one topic and ready to start the next
- For long sentences with no comma, note the natural places to pause and breathe
Let’s give this guide a try: read Steve Job’s Stanford Commencement address in 2005 following the guide above. Once you get comfortable with the punctuation rule, record your best try on PitchVantage.
Now listen to the actual Steve Job’s speech:
Compare it with the one you did in PitchVantage. You will notice that Steve Jobs didn’t just pause at punctuations but he did a lot more with his pauses. After you get familiar with the above pausing rules, below are the advanced pausing techniques that will help you master the art of pausing:
- Pause right before and after the key word that you want to emphasize. These pauses will draw attention to the key word.
- Make a long pause after you ask your audience a question. The pause will give them time to think about answers.
- Pause when you switch to a new slide. You audience needs a moment to check out your slides first. The more complicated your visuals are, the longer your pause should be.
- Forgot what you wanted to say? Make a long pause to gather your thoughts.
- Pause when you want to create suspense for your planned reason such as creating a sense of drama.
- Pause right before and after a humorous punch line.
- Before you start your presentation, make a power pause by saying your opening sentence in mind. Every second you wait strengthens the impact of your opening words.
With the advanced techniques that you just learnt, now go back to Steve Job’s speech one last time to think about why he paused where he paused and what he wanted to achieve with his pauses. How can you make it work in your presentation?
Lastly, we would like to share a common misunderstanding of long pauses. Some PitchVantage users ask, “how long is a long pause”, because they received “Needs Improvement” on long pauses and thought they were pausing long enough. That is a wrong question to ask! One second is a long pause; three seconds is also a long pause. The length of a long pause is not the issue. What you need to do is have more medium and longer pauses in your presentation compared to short pauses. Following the above techniques and looking at PitchVantage feedback, you will be able to use the power of pauses effectively to engage your audience.
Let us know if this exercise helps and how we can improve.