Thou shalt not pause is not a speaking commandment“Thou shalt fill up every second of your presentation with words.”

I don’t know when this became a pervasive presentation commandment, but it’s time to break this stone tablet with reckless abandon. I promise you won’t go to presentation Hell, but you’ll send your audience to Heaven.

Pauses are important for both speakers and audiences.

Pause before you begin

A huge mistake I see most speakers make is that they run up on stage and launch into their speech and then spend the rest of their stage time chasing their breath.

NEVER start speaking out-of-breath.

Walk on the stage. PAUSE. Breathe. Make eye contact. Smile. Take a deep breath. Begin.

There’s nothing wrong with a 5 second pause before launching into your talk. It allows you to catch your breath and it allows your audience to transition between the person who introduced you and the speaker.

Ask a question, then pause

If you pose a question to the audience, even if it’s a question that is meant just for reflection, you must pause!

If you ask a question and then just keep right on going, it sends a loud message that you don’t care what the audience thinks.

I taught college students for over 12 years, I got really used to silence after posing a question. I could hear crickets, the clock ticking and water dripping after asking anything. It’s uncomfortable, tension filled, and feels a lot longer to you than your audience.

If you ask a question, pause at least 5 seconds before you begin again. If you want the audience to answer, let the pause go until someone speaks up. Someone always does.

Got data? Need to pause

Do you do data-driven presentations? Bar charts, line graphs, pie charts…oh my! Technical presentations are content dense. They require a lot from the audience mentally. The audience needs time to process all the information you are giving them.

If you are explaining a complex chart or concept, finish and pause. Look out at the audience. If they look confused, pose a question. If all looks well, move on to the next data point. The pause is essential to processing and comprehension.

Transitioning between points needs a pause

Transitioning between the points of your speech is one of the BIGGEST stumbling blocks in presentations. It’s hard for your brain to switch gears. You stumble, use the dreaded umm word or forget where you are going all together. Don’t rush transitions. Pause. Gather your thoughts. Let the audience bask in the knowledge of your last point. When you’ve collected your ideas, it’s time to begin again.

For fluency’s sake – pause when you’re switching between ideas.

Pause for emphasis

You’ve come to the moment. You’re emphasizing your big idea statement. It’s the take away message. The phrase you want your audience to repeat to their friends, family and anyone who missed your great presentation. You rush right through it like a race car driver gunning for the finish line.

When you’re speaking about your big idea or an a-ha moment in your speech, slow down and pause after you say it. It signals to your audience that what you just said is IMPORTANT! They will pay closer to attention.

Speakers – do not be afraid of the pause. Pausing is a great tool for you. It also gives your audience a chance to process what you’re saying as well as provide context for what’s important.

Embrace the power of pauses in presentations.

How do you know when you need to pause? Share your thoughts (and pauses) in the comments below.

photo by: pasukaru76