5 Ways to Master the Pause

Speaking in Bali, Indonesia

As soon as you start learning to speak, what’s one thing speakers and speech coaches tell you? They say, “Pause.” A lot of conversation goes into tell you to pause but not enough conversation goes into showing you the specifics of when and how and for how long, etc.

Below are five moments in which you can pause along with tools you can use to maximize the impact of those pauses so you connect deeper with every future audience. Here are the five reasons:

Moment #1 –  When you ask a question

So often I see speakers ask their audiences a question but then they don’t pause long enough to let the audiences respond. If you want a verbal response then it becomes easy. However, when the question is rhetorical, it becomes slightly more difficult? Why? Because you might not know how long to pause. What you pick up here is my secret key to asking questions and  pausing for the appropriate length.

Secret Key: In my mind, I answer the question I just asked as if I am in my audience.

For example, let’s take a question I heard in my bootcamp this past weekend. The speaker asked, “When you were in Grade 3, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

If you were to ask that question, how long would you pause? Well, I would answer my own question in my mind after I asked it so that I could hopefully match how long it would take my audience to think, reflect, and answer the question in their minds.

For example, after I asked the question, I would answer in my mind, “Well, I wanted to be Dr. J (pro basketball player) and have my own farm with horses.” However long it takes me to answer my question is how long I pause. After I answer it in my mind, I continue talking. In this case, I continue by asking the follow-up question, “Is that what you have become?”

How long would I pause after this second question? Here’s a quiz for you. Would I pause longer or shorter than I paused for the first question? I’d pause shorter for the second question. Why? Because it’s a yes or no question. Think about it. If (like my bootcamp attendee did), I asked, “Is that what you have become?” the answer is either yes or no. That’s only one word. Therefore, after I ask the question, I answer it in my mind by saying, “No.” Guess what? That’s how long (or short) I pause! That’s it. Pretty simple, right?

Whenever you ask a rhetorical question on stage, answer it in your own mind and that will give you an adequate and effective pause. You might even pause a bit longer because, let’s face it, unlike your audience, you already know what you’re going to ask so you have a head start in thinking of the answer.

Some speech coaches will tell you to count to five or seven or something like that. Do you know why I don’t suggest that? Because counting to five or seven takes you away from your message. To me it always seems artificial. However, if you answer the question you ask, you stay in tune with what your audience is going through and hence you’ll connect deeper with them. So much of your speaking success is determined by what’s going on in your mind as you speak.  

As you see from this strategy, how long you pause after your question depends on the question itself.

Moment #2 – After you say something profound

Another important reason to pause is after you say something that hits home with your audience. How do you know it hits home? You know by watching your watchers and listening to your listeners. You’ll see on their faces when it hits home. Over time, you will know which parts of your message resonate the deepest.

Here’s an example. Listen to this quick statement I make and the pause afterwards.


Surely you heard the pause after the line “We invite them never the change.” It was a good pause for that audience. What do I mean that it was good for that audience?

Here’s something you might never have heard about pausing.

The size of the audience can help determine the length of your pause


The larger your audience, the longer you pause.

If you think about it, it makes sense because you’re pausing to make sure they “get” the statement. Well, if you’re in front of a smaller audience, you can look around the room quicker to see the confirmation on their faces or their heads nodding in agreement. In a larger audience it takes a bit longer to see all of head nods and expressions. If you were speaking to one person, the pause would be even shorter although it would still be there.

Too many speakers start feeding their audiences the next lines when the audience is still chewing on the current line. Let them finish chewing before you give them more. Many speakers know not to step on the laughter but they haven’t yet learned to avoid stepping on their audience’s thoughts and reflections.


Moment #3 – When you make your audience laugh

Knowing and doing are two different animals. Most speakers know not to keep talking while their audience is laughing. However, I still see way too many speakers doing it. Some speakers say, “But Craig, I don’t have enough time so I have to interrupt their laughter.” I say, “Cut something else out of your speech so you can make room for the laughter but don’t step on the laughter.”

Why? Because stepping on the laughter is rude to your audience. Your audience wants to be heard too. That’s why they laugh. That’s why they yell out at times. That’s why they nod their heads and give you verbal cues that they’re connected with you. Let them speak in their own ways including laughter.

The key is to get the laugh, pause, and then come back in at the very end of the laughter just as it’s dying down.

Keep in mind that laughter from a large audience requires a longer pause because it takes them longer to laugh. That’s why, each year, I see contestants in speech contests go over time. Why? They underestimate how long it takes those larger audiences to laugh.

Moment #4 – Before you begin your speech

Before you begin your speech, I suggest that you pause and look at your audience. I’m not talking about staring at them for 10 seconds and making everybody uncomfortable. I’m simply suggesting that you look at them and let them know you see them before you start speaking.

Why? Well, what do you think about a person who doesn’t look at you when you first meet? Some people won’t trust the person and others will think the person isn’t really interested in connecting with them. Either way, this is not good for the connection. Your audience can think the same thing about you if you don’t at least acknowledge their presence with a look that says, “I see you” before you begin your speech (i.e. as you first meet). The good news is this can be done in a couple of seconds.

Moment #5 – When you are showing a visual reaction to what has occurred in your story

Last but certainly not least is the pause you give inside of your stories. I already covered this in a separate blog entry but it’s worth bringing up again. To revisit that entry click here and scroll down to the part of that entry that says “The Problem with Silence.”


Why Don’t Speakers Pause Long Enough

I believe speakers don’t pause enough (or long enough) because they’re afraid they’ll forget what to say next. So instead they rush off to the next line for fear of forgetting it. So what’s the solution to this?

 Don’t memorize; internalize

 I don’t believe speakers should ever be worried about what they’re going to say next. Instead, they should have rehearsed to a point where they can forget their speech and have it come back to them at all of the correct times. That keeps it fresh. This can be done by internalizing your speech rather than memorizing it. Stay tuned for a future newsletter lesson on how to internalize your speech.


Final Thoughts

Speakers and speech coaches constantly point out the importance of the pause, but now you hopefully have some more insight into when and how to do it. Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list of when and how to pause. However, it is a reminder of five very important moments in your speech that you can use to establish and deepen your connection to your audience.

Craig Valentine

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