Pausing in public speaking is like a pit stop for the mind. It is a stop for both your mind and the mind of your listeners. It allows you to punctuate what your saying, transition into new thoughts, emphasize and add drama. It is a way to deal with circumstances and most of all for the audience to have time to mentally respond.
Imagine going on a coast to coast trip, in your car, never stopping to stretch your legs, eat or other necessities. You would not be a very happy traveler. Those breaks, keep you alert, fresh. They prevent blood clots from prolonged sitting without movement.
Those stops also allow you to smell the roses. They allow you to stop and... well, you will have to go to this place by your self.
When we deliver our speech, we take our audience on a mental trip. Would we ask of them something we ourselves would not do? Take that little break. Pausing in public speaking allows for this break.
Pausing in Public Speaking for the Mind
Of course a break for the mind could amount to a second split into a thousand parts. The best can speed type over 300 words a minute and read over 600 words a minute.
The rest of us struggle along. We think at about 400 words a minute. The average rate of speaking is about 125 words a minute.
Our think to speak ratio doesn’t mean we have a license to talk non stop. For an informational, motivational, or persuasive speech, the little pit stops allow the mind to stop and smell the roses of your speech. Or it may be stopping to eat a bite of mental food.
That brain food it eats, your speech, needs to be digested.
How fast can it digest? Since the brain is running at 400 and our mouth at 125, our goal is to monopolize on the balance of the remaining 275 words. We want to capture that ability to process those extra words. Remember to eat is not to digest or process.
To be effective, that processing needs to be on our speech. It needs to be processing on the words we use. Otherwise all 400 words will be used up by other programs running in the brain if our talk is of no interest or even boring.
How do we get it to use that extra word processing band width of the brain focused on what we are saying?
Use the pausing pit stop. Pauses serve several purposes that work as a mental pit stop for both speaker and listeners.
Reasons for Pausing in public speaking
Pausing to punctuate is a simple grammatical rule. Know the rule and you will know when to pause.
The Sentence Stop Sign
Period (.) is the stop sign. This is where the voice takes a downward turn in tonality or inflection if you’re making a statement. A question would take an upward turn.
Some may remember the Monty Python line, “Sir, by what name do you go.” The reply, “Some call me Tim?” How would your audience know that this statement was punctuated as a question? Through a combination of tones and that stop sign to allow them to process the information.
Try it. Say out loud, ‘some call me Tim’ with a downward or decreasing tone or inflection. Now make it into a question by asking ‘is your name Tim?’ with an upward or increasing tone. Either way you do it, you come to a stop. Your up or downward tone is how you indicate a question or statement. The stop sign, the period is the point to allow your audience to pause. Slightly more for a general question. Slightly less for a general statement.
Other Sentence Traffic Signs
Comma (,) the pause is more slight allowing for more info of the same thought.
Quotations (“) tells your audience it is someone’s statement. A strong pause should set them off. Many experienced speakers avoid using or gesturing air quotes. Rather they make the quotes with their voice.
Pausing is not the most essential aspect of public speaking. It is one of the most powerful to master in terms of return on investment.
There are various types of pausing in public speaking employed by public speakers. Learn about them in the next section.
Pausing for Emphasis, Drama and Transitions is one of the places in a talk to incorporate the pause.
Other Related Public Speaking Qualities
Naturalness is more than natural speaking. Do you know what it is and how to develop this skill?
Public Speaking Volume if mastered improves Naturalness and Pausing. Do you know how and when to master this skill.
Enthusiasm and How to Attain It is another related speaker skill to learn. Do you know what it is? Do you know how to use it in your public speaking?