Clear Comm Consulting

The Power of the Pause — Sometimes, It’s Not What You Say.

Apr 30, 2009

Whenever we have to deliver an important speech, a critical interview or even a run-of-the-mill Friday afternoon presentation, we usually fret about the words. Often hours are spent agonizing over just the right combination of phrases to bring your point home.

Here’s the question to ponder today: Does anyone pay attention to the pause? Comic legends Jack Benny and Johnny Carson made their careers not just on what they said but what they did with the spaces in between. You too can make a few quiet moments work in your favor, and you will stand out among all presenters. Why? Because what we’re talking about today is becoming a lost art.

The question came to mind recently when I was working with a client who was about to deliver the key presentation of the year for an entire organization. What was making it seem a little flat? The words were fine, the message was compelling, yet it seemed to lose something along the way. What I came to realize was the client was racing through the passages and by suggesting a few well timed pauses, the impact was completely different.

Whether you are providing feedback for your boss or delivering the presentation yourself, don’t overlook the lowly pause. Here are some ways to judge if the pause is doing what it does best:

The Thoughtful Moment: If the message is one which needs to be absorbed by the audience, you are in prime pause territory! Lay out the idea, pause, and then repeat the same idea word-for-word or re-state the idea in a slightly different way. “Are we going to let this economy stop us, or are we going to look for the new opportunities it presents — PAUSE — are we in the final days of what we’ve known or at the dawn of a new era? Only the people in this room can answer that question!”

A New Idea: Any truly new idea is going to take a moment or two for your audience to absorb. Let it happen. Often it is hard to recognize that moment because, by the time it is being written in a speech the people doing the writing are very familiar with the concept while the audience will be hearing it for the first time. Don’t lose sight of that fact! “Our new company motto is ‘Our Only Job is Solving Your Problem'” — PAUSE — “Who here in this room is a Problem Solver?”

Concluding Thought: Even if you have moved at a pretty quick pace throughout the presentation, the pause can send a signal: the Big Finish is here! “Finally — PAUSE — I want to tell you I couldn’t be more proud of the team that stands in front of me right now!”

When you are putting together your next presentation, don’t forget the white space between the words — PAUSE — and the opportunities they represent!

Watch for NBC’s Mother’s Day coverage of our client Mark-Taylor Residential. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams will showcase Mark-Taylor’s effort to find homes for homeless families in the Phoenix area.

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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