Speaking Tips: Pause like you mean it


What is one of the most underused techniques in public speaking? You said it… … …the pause. What’s the most overused technique in all forms of speaking (except sign language)? Right again…um…ah…the “audible” pause.

The real question is, how do you make that transition from “um” and “ah” to … ? here’s the secret: You can’t just do it when you speak in public.  That’s right, you have to practice and catch yourself no matter when you do it, and eliminate those bad pauses from your everyday speech…that is, if you want to be sure they’re gone from your presentations as well.

What’s so tough about it? We use “um” and “ah” to let our listener know we need to maintain control of the speaking, for now. Thank you very much. It’s a habit, and habits can be changed. But why would we want to use a silent pause? For effect! To capture our audiences attention! To bring them to the edge of their seats!

What about using pauses for effect? here are a couple of thoughts on how to do it:

1. When you ask a question, even a rhetorical one, silently consider the three most likely answers while the audience thinks of their one (i.e. yes, no, and maybe). Look at a different person for each answer coming up in your head. That should give them enough time to think and be ready to move on.
2. When you say “Imagine that you’re…” …whatever. Take the time to imagine it yourself to give them time too.
3. When you make a profound point (and yes, we all do eventually), savor it! Silently: “one – one thousand…two – one thousand…three – one thousand…” Can you believe it?
4. Before the punchline.
5. Anytime you need to slow things down.

Pausing is one of the most challenging techniques to master, and a very powerful one too. Take the time to practice it in your daily speech, and when practicing your presentations, and you’ll see your audience pay more attention to the words that follow… … …the pause.


  1. Rob, great point on the importance of pausing. One thought came to mind and that is that we should vary the length of our pauses.

    Also, you mentioned about pausing before punchlines. I have found that I can double my laughs by just pausing.

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