The Power of the Pause

I developed a new training program to help clients improve their public speaking techniques. Its called “Make Your Presentations Sing!” Earlier this week I presented it for members of the Long Beach Nonprofit Partnership. As part of the training, I have my audience listen to several musical examples to clarify my point. Points include: story telling, vocal range, timbre, emphasis, breathing, phrasing, etc.

One of the most overlooked presentation techniques is – The Pause. As in “The Sound of Silence.” – You remember that Simon & Garfunkel’s classic song – “Listen to the sound… of silence.”

Far too many speakers talk too much and they lose the attention of their audience because they forget to pause.

Far too many writers use too many words – their text is too dense. They forget to pause – to use the “white-space” on the page to give more power their prose.

Far too many sales opportunities are lost because the salesperson talks too much – they neglect to use the power of the pause.

We are all guilty of this – to a greater or lesser degree. When is the last time you heard someone pause during a television interview or “debate?” Anyone who dares to pause for effect will never regain the opportunity to get another word in during that segment!

Salespeople are their own worst enemy. The can not stand to hear silence! So, rather than pay attention to their customers’ reactions and observe their body language, they barge ahead and fill the vacuum of silence – with their own voice. To what result? Frequently, they end up talking themselves out of the sale!

The same thing can happen during presentations. Inexperienced speakers “panic” during periods of silence. They worry that they are having a memory lapse. In their mind, the silence lasts for minutes – not seconds. They dare not look out at the audience for fear that they will see boredom – or people leaving. And so it gets worse. The speaker is now panicked – and they speed up, And, as a result, they lose more of their audience!

“A wise person once said that there is, in any good speech, a greater message in the pauses than in the words that surround them”

– Excepted from “The Articulate Executive” by Granville N. Toogood

To illustrate this point during my training, I play Tony Bennett’s interpretation of the Irving Berlin song, “When I Lost You.” I could not find it at the i tunes store. But it is from Tony’s 1987 Album “Bennett / Berlin” and it is sung “a cappella” which means singing without instrumental accompaniment. It is a great example of “The Power of the Pause” to establish a mood, to emphasize your point, to impart a memorable message. Try to locate this track. If you are not moved by the power of this performance, … Trust me, this is worth worth your time and money!

In Timothy Koegel’s book, “The Exceptional Presenter,” he cites a UCLA Study by Dr. Albert Mahrabian that revealed:

7% of our impact is determined by the words we use.

38% of our impact is determined by our voice: how confident and comfortable we sound.

55% of our impact is determined non-verbally; our appearance, posture, gestures and movement, eye contact and facial expressions.

With this in mind, if you want to make an effective presentation you MUST learn how to fully utilize your vocal power. It is really not so much the actual words that you use (7% of your impact) rather, it is how you use your voice and how you use “The Power of the Pause.”

“Control time and you will control your audience.” – The Articulate Executive

Think of any great speech –

“Ask not, what your country can do for you (PAUSE) Ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy Inauguration Speech

” I have a dream (PAUSE) that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… I have a dream (PAUSE)… – Dr. Martin Luther King

Listen for the pause and experience its power. Listen to the sounds (PAUSE) of silence!

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  1. A friend of mine linked me to your blog and I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Thank you for writing to tell me this.

    Danny Rocks


  1. […] Of course, variety is the spice of life. You need to vary your rate of speaking to reflect the tone of your content. Speed up when you are excited; slow down when you are making an important point. And always remember “the power of the pause.” […]

  2. […] proven technique that memorable speakers employ is “The Power of the Pause.” “That impressive, eloquent, progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where […]

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