Pausing is a massive weapon in the arsenal of the powerful presenter.
The pause I’m going to talk about today is more than just a pause at the end of a sentence to ensure you don’t run out of breath. That’s just speaking at a steady pace, and is really only a foundation public speaking skill.
What we’re going to talk about today is a more advanced tactic, one that takes real patience and judgement to use correctly, and real confidence to ensure its effectiveness.
The Power Pause is a pause that stands out like a 50ft signpost within your speech and makes your points even more impactful for your audience. The Power Pause is a secret weapon that takes some practice to use effectively, but when you truly understand it and use it wisely, it is the most powerful public speaking tool there is, used by the greatest speakers throughout history.
What is a Power Pause?
The Power Pause is an elongated pause (many, many seconds) that is used to either:
Highlight a key point
Make your audience think / answer a rhetorical question (which often highlights a key point!)
Key points within your speech or presentation need to be given room to breathe. If you rush over them, pausing only for breath at the end of a sentence, then how can your audience possibly know that they are key points that need to be contemplated, and remembered?
Read the passage below as you would a storybook.
“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.”
Can you tell what the key point is?
Ok, now try reading it again below, but where you see a ‘//’ leave a two second pause.
“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. //
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — //
ask what you can do for your country. //
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, //
but what together we can do for the freedom of man. //
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.”
Now what do you think the key point was? If you couldn’t hear it, record yourself and you’ll quickly see that Power Pause point jumping out at you. (HINT: It’s what you can do for your country!)
That elongated Power Pause acted like a signalling flare, highlighting to us exactly what we needed to hear and remember.
Power Pauses are great for rhetorical questions too
Power pauses are also best used after rhetorical questions. Despite being rhetorical, you should always give your audience time to answer your questions in their head. Use a long power pause after a rhetorical question to signal to your audience that you are expecting them to answer the question. If you’re unsure about how long to pause for, pause for as long as you would need to answer the question verbally.
The challenges you will face when using the Power Pause: Patience, judgement and confidence
I mentioned earlier that Power Pauses require patience, judgement and confidence. Here’s why (and how).
It’s human nature to fill silence with communication. Not saying anything or leaving a long silence is often seen as rude in social situations. It’s even harder when you’re the invited speaker and are stood on stage not saying anything for several seconds.
Implementing a strong Power Pause requires great patience. Patience not to jump in when the silence begins to feel a little awkward (which it will, to begin with). Ultimately, using powerful pauses in your presentation is like going to the gym. At first it’s awkward and feels painful, but as you practice, it becomes easier and your sense of satisfaction afterwards (and effectiveness!) is increased!
Be patient and hang in there during those few seconds and your impact will increase tenfold!
If it were Christmas everyday then Christmas wouldn’t be quite so magical any more. The same rule applies to using Power Pauses. The more that you incorporate into your presentation, the less effective each pause becomes.
Effective judgement is required to ensure that you only use Power Pauses in the places that they will add real value to your speech. If you find that your speech includes too many Power Pauses, the chances are that you have too many important messages in there – try to distill it down to just 2 or 3 key points. Your audience will struggle to remember much more!
Plan your Power Pauses when you first begin writing your presentation. This way, you’ll have lots of time to practice making them effective and they won’t sound like they have been shoe horned in for effect after the presentation was written!
The final skill required to perfectly deliver a Power Pause is confidence. If we pause for a few seconds in front of a large audience, we must appear confident whilst doing it.
The temptation is to look at the floor, or wring our hands as the pause rumbles onwards, but imagine seeing that from the audience’ perspective.
If they see a speaker saying nothing, and looking nervously at the floor, they will assume that he/she has forgotten their words or is pausing for their own contemplation. The last thing they will think is that this is an opportunity for them to contemplate the point that you have just made.
Instead, to let your audience know that this point is theirs to contemplate, you must address them confidently, open your body and look them in the eye as you pause. Think of it as a positive challenge to your audience to remember, engage with and meditate on the point that you have just made.
If you have any questions, want to share your own experiences of using the Power Pause or just want to chat about anything ‘public speaking’ for your business, please just contact me here.