Embrace the power of the Pause

Jane Sheffield
Lead Trainer & Owner
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Recently I spoke to Radio New Zealand about how to eliminate fillers from your speech. The last thing my husband said to me, before I answered the phone was, “make sure you don’t use any fillers on the call”.

Yikes. And eek! I knew he was right. Lots of ums and ahhs would be like a red flag to a bull for Saturday morning RNZ listeners!  And for the first half of the call, I stuttered and stopped abruptly as my ‘weekend brain’ tried to communicate without saying, “like”.

Which got me thinking about pauses.

In the interview we talk about using pauses to eliminate fillers. This is a solid technique I use when coaching someone who is a frequent fillers-user.  You can listen to the interview here.

But pauses help in other situations as well.

Here are some other scenarios where pauses work wonders:

1. When answering questions

As RNZ was asking me about when and how to use pauses, I could almost hear the cogs of my brain starting to spin as I thought about the answer, before opening my mouth. And being a Saturday, those cogs were quite slow…

But for years I didn’t pause when asked questions. Oh no – quite the opposite. I approached any Q & A session much like a game show. Get in quick. Push your buzzer and swing into an answer as soon as possible. Speed over quality, which (unsurprisingly) led to jumbled, waffly and not particularly useful answers.

These days I work hard at reducing the rubbish that comes out of my mouth, by stopping when asked questions.

This is how it works:

Step 1: Listen.

Step 2: Pause (or paraphrase the question back).

Step 3: Answer.

It’s important to remember that the person asking you a question is probably not timing you. But they will be looking for a clear, concise and accurate answer to their query. Give yourself time to think before you open your mouth (something I have to remind myself on a daily basis).

2. To stress importance

This is the pause before delivering your key message. A small halt is an effective way to let your audience know you are about to say something really important.


“At the end of this presentation I want you to approve funding for Project X”.


“At the end of this presentation, there is one thing I want you to do. (Pause)

Approve funding for Project X”.

The silence acts like white space around a word or sentence. It allows your Key Message to stand out, which is exactly what you want it to do.

3. For effect

There is no point making strong, impactful statements unless we allow our audience time to absorb these statements. Too often we say so much, so fast. Powerful words and key phrases can get lost in the noise. Take time to construct powerful, strong statements. Then give your audience time to digest them.

A master at this? Barack Obama. Listen to this speech, to fully appreciate the power of the pause.

 4. You’ve forgotten what you’re talking about

It’s easy when having a ‘mind blank’ to just keep talking.  Anything is better than silence right?   Wrong. Rambling is not better than silence.

If you lose your way, get caught off guard, or are struggling to manage your thoughts – just stop. Take a breather. Check your notes. Take a moment to get back on track. No one minds, and you look considered (rather than muddled).

How to practice pauses

If you have an important presentation coming up and you would like to experiment with the power of pauses, go for it. Using your Voice Memo App on your phone, talk through your ideas and listen back. Not only will you notice speed, language, and use of fillers, but you will notice that what you feel is a universe of silence, is not actually that long. This is because our brain works much faster than our mouth, which distorts time when standing at the front of room.

So, give the talking a break for a bit, and…….embrace the pause.

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