Have you ever had the pleasure of being cornered by a non-stop talker?
You know the type: barely pausing to breathe between statements, seeming to have a long, drawn-out opinion on just about every topic imaginable, and completely oblivious to your building desire to scream,
We’ve all been there. And because of that, it may not come as a surprise to learn that public speakers sometimes suffer from the same bad habit.
Don’t think your audience feels any different than you do in that situation if you get up on stage and start spouting words of wisdom, non-stop for thirty minutes.
When faced with that sort of barrage of ideas, the human brain has a very effective defense mechanism set up and in place, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.
It’s called tuning out.
If you’re speaking non-stop, barreling through your speech at Mach 4, your audience is going to tune you out within minutes. They’re going to be thinking about what they’re going to eat for lunch today, whether or not they turned the toaster off, who that pretty new girl at the Starbuck’s was… anything but what you’re talking about.
Sure, they might tune back in now and then, catch a few phrases, maybe even take a note or two if it’s appropriate. But if you’re still pushing ahead without noticing their disinterest, they’re just going to tune out again.
Like a guy lounging on the couch, clicking the remote, you’re just one of 150 channels they need to scan trying to find something interesting.
In effect, what they’re doing is inserting their own pauses in your speech.
Did you catch that? Because it’s important.
They are inserting their own pauses in your speech.
So, logically, how can you disarm this potent mental defense?
By pausing for them.
You see, to keep command of your audience, you need to give them a chance to stay with you. You need to anticipate where they may start to tune out and help them not to do it.
Well, there are plenty of things you can do to keep things interesting, and we’ve talked about some of them already. But one of the most important things you can do is to pause at appropriate times during your speech to make sure your audience is still with you.
So how do you do it?
Brief pauses should come naturally with practice and relaxation.
At the same points where a written message would contain commas, periods or paragraph breaks, a good speaker will put brief but noticeable pauses in, just as we generally do when we’re speaking to each other face-to-face.
Preparing your speech well enough to get up there and speak naturally is a goal of any public speaker.
But there are other reasons to insert meaningful pauses into your speech. Here are a few to consider:
- For a change of thought: When combined with the effective use of transitional phrases, such as “Next, consider this” or “point number two is”, a significant pause works well to mark the point where one main point has been covered and you are moving into the next. This pause silently tells the audience, “that’s it for that point, tie a bow on it and set it aside, we’re moving on.” If anyone is taking notes, they’ll love you for this. Just make sure not to make the pause awkwardly long or people will wonder if it was just a really bad conclusion.
- For emphasis: Dramatic pauses can do amazing things for emphasizing points you want to make. For example, if your speech material includes a particularly powerful statistic, one that exemplifies the urgency of the solution you’re about to explain to your audience, don’t just blow right through it! Lead up to the statistic, give it to them, then pause. Long enough to look at one or two individuals specifically. Just a second or two will allow that incredible nugget to sink down into their minds and memories. Or, if you introduce your topic by means of a series of questions, a short buy poignant pause after each question allows the audience to actually ask themselves the question, mull it over a moment, and look forward to how your speech is going to answer it. Because, now that they’ve had a moment to personalize the answer, they’re more vested in finding out why you asked the question!
- When circumstances require it: Hopefully, this won’t happen. But, sometimes it does: some sort of disturbance erupts right in the middle of your speech. Something that’s guaranteed to take your audience’s attention away from you. Maybe a baby starts screaming, or someone’s loud and obnoxious cell phone goes off. Maybe you choke on a swallow of water. Awkward? Possibly. But it’s even more awkward for everyone involved if you try to ignore the fact that no one’s listening any more and you try to keep speaking as if nothing is happening. Just pause for a few moments until attention comes back to you. If what you have to say was important enough to get you on stage, it’s important enough to wait until the bozo turns off his phone. Don’t embarrass anyone, just politely wait until the rest of your audience is back with you, then move on.
Have you ever had to sit through a speech where the speaker didn’t know how to pause? How effective was he/she? What other reasons for pausing can you think of? Fill up the comments!