There is a natural flow to giving a speech in public. And taking appropriate pauses is incredibly important to that flow, whether you believe it or not. But many of my students tell me they’re not sure how to pause at the right time, or for what reasons. If you may be lost on how to do this, you’re certainly not alone. Due to popular demand, I’ve decided to cover this topic.
What are effective ways how to make speech pauses? Taking a pause at the right time can help you convey a variety of things during a speech. Some common reasons someone pauses during a speech might be to remember their place, place emphasis on a certain phrase, or to change the topic.
I have compiled a list of 13 effective tips you can use to incorporate pauses into your presentations. And after reading, you will have a greater understanding of why pauses are so important for public speakers. Hopefully, you will be able to use some of these tips during your next speech!
#1 Pause When it’s Time to Switch
The end of a paragraph, the end of a sentence, or changing the topic are common times when a speaker might want to add a brief pause. This is to help transition from one thing to another smoothly and in a professional manner. It will also keep your audience listening for what’s to come next.
At the end of a paragraph, it is common to give a short pause. This is even true for the end of a sentence sometimes. However, you don’t want to do it for every single sentence because you could start to confuse your audience. Be discerning about which sentences are important enough to warrant a brief pause.
Giving a brief pause is especially important when you are switching from one topic to the next. If you start a new topic too soon, your audience may be confused about the information you’re presenting, and how it fits to each topic presented.
#2 To Replace a Filler Word
When you are having a friendly conversation, you may use a lot of filler words like “um” and “uh” without even realizing it. Like you, I know that I use these words almost every day. But when you are on stage, these common fillers seem less appropriate for a professional speech.
It looks unprofessional to be on stage and inserting filling words every time you lose your spot, or need to think of an answer to a question. If there are places in your speech where you would typically feel like inserting “uh”, “um”, “like” or other filler words, try replacing it with a brief pause instead.
For more information on filler words, read on to the end of the article. I have included a section at the end about filler words, and the role they have in our speech patterns. I’ve also written some tips that you can use to further reduce your use of these words while you are speaking in public.
#3 Pausing for Emphasis
Sometimes, placing emphasis on a specific keyword or sentence is going to be essential to what you have to say. After all, there are certain points that you want to make while you are speaking. Some things are more important than others. In this case, pausing for emphasis may be a good strategy to communicate your point to your audience.
What is your main point of this speech? Maybe your topic is centered around a specific phrase or string of words. When you get to this phrase or these words, try pausing right afterward to emphasise what you just said.
And after the pause is over, restate your point. This will create a lasting impact. It will also give your audience time to deeply reflect on what you have just said.
#4 Maybe You Lost Your Spot
Human beings are hardly perfect, and even the most seasoned speakers often lose their spot. And since you don’t want to seem unprofessional to your audience, you may want to consider taking a pause during this time. After all, what does it look like if you start to stutter and fumble around because you forgot what you were going to say?
If a pause still doesn’t help you remember what you were going to say, regain yourself with confidence. Restate your main point, and then take a few questions from the audience.
#5 Hypothetical Questions
It is typical for speakers to pause after giving a hypothetical question to their audience. This is for questions that they don’t expect them to call out an answer to.
To give an example, you might ask your audience what they would do if they won a lot of money. This question might be given by a life coach, or even during a financial talk to make the audience members think about finances, and how an event like winning the lottery would change their lives.
You may not be expecting your audience to actually answer questions like this, but you want them to think about the question you’ve provided. Therefore, you pause for a moment. This allows your audience members to reflect on the relevance of the question, and what their hypothetical answer might be.
#6 Beginning With a Pause
Should you start your speech with a pause? Some of my students find that they actually prefer doing this instead of just jumping right in. And depending on your topic, this could help effectively set the right mood for you and your audience.
Assume a confident stance, and smile politely to the audience. This pause will signal to them that you are ready to begin your presentation. And it will also be likely to effectively capture their attention.
Please note that starting with a pause may be ineffective if you are giving a video or Power Point presentation.
#7 It’s Okay to Plan Your Pauses
As with everything, planning and practicing will help you tremendously prepare for giving a speech in public. And pauses are no exception. While every pause you may give during a speech may not be planned, it is okay to plan some of them.
When you are planning out your speech, try to write down your pauses on your note cards. And when you are practicing, take that time to rehearse pausing just like you would any other part of your speech.
Practice makes everything perfect. And when you effectively know how to pause during rehearsal, you will be able to do it more confidently on stage.
#8 Thinking of an Answer
Many times when you are giving a speech, you may be taking questions from your audience members. It is good to prepare for the kinds of questions you may be asked during this time. But what happens when you get a question that you were completely unprepared for?
This is definitely the right time for a pause. After all, you want to give thought to the question that was asked. If you answer too quickly, you may appear less than genuine or authentic to your audience members. They want to see that you are taking a moment to think of a good response. This tactic will help your audience respect you.
#9 Pausing for a Joke Punchline
If you are telling a joke during your presentation, a properly timed pause is essential. It is especially important for you to pause when you are delivering the punchline of a joke. To achieve this, make sure you are pausing right before delivering the punchline.
This is important because your audience needs to clearly know that what you’re saying is a joke. Without the pause, they may miss the indication that they are supposed to laugh. And nothing is more awkward than telling a joke on stage, and then having the audience react with confused silence.
#10 Moving to a New Slide
This tip is mostly for speakers who are giving a Power Point or similar slide presentation. When you go from one slide to the next, you may want to take a pause. There are many reasons why this is a good idea. The biggest reason is that it gives the audience enough time to observe the slide and take in all the details before you begin speaking.
While not all of my students make regular Power Point presentations, I thought it was still important to include this tip. After all, I want you to be prepared for a variety of circumstances.
#11 Pause To Keep From Talking too Fast
You might be very educated or excited about the topic you are presenting. That is good, but this sometimes may cause speakers to talk very fast. And when you are talking too fast, you risk losing your audience’s ability to keep up. Even worse, they may stop paying attention altogether. Therefore, effectively using a pause to help slow you down may be appropriate.
#12 Let The Audience Finish Applauding or Laughing
Is your audience still laughing after a particularly hilarious joke you told? Or maybe they are still applauding wildly after something inspirational you said? You don’t want to be rude in either of these cases. After all, you want them to laugh at your jokes, and you certainly want them to give you applause.
#13 Pause to Deal With the Unexpected
You simply can’t plan for everything. Sometimes, something may happen that you simply didn’t plan for, and you’re left figuring out what to do. However, you still have to appear professional while you’re on stage.
Maybe you forgot a specific note card, or you completely forgot what you were talking about. Or maybe something has happened in the room or audience that diverts everyone’s attention. It’s best to pause for a brief period of time to deal with the situation.
Or maybe the unexpected is a sudden shock of nervousness or stage fright. Take a brief moment to pause, take a sip of water if you can, and collect yourself. If you play it off right, nobody will even notice that anything is wrong. Pausing is healthy, it’s natural, and don’t feel guilty if you need to stop to take a few seconds to regain your confidence.
How is a Pause During a Speech Different Than in Everyday Conversation?
How often do you pause when you are talking one-on-one with someone during an everyday conversation? And how is it different than when you are pausing on-stage? Understanding this will help you understand what makes on-stage pausing so effective.
This brings us to the main to reasons that we use filler words: pauses and discourse markers. In this article, I’m only going to be focusing on the pause aspect of filler words.
When you are engaging in a private conversation with someone, there is usually a lot of back and forth involved. They speak, then you speak, then they speak, and so on and so forth. A pause typically indicates that you are finished speaking, and waiting for them to begin.
So instead, you end up using filler words to indicate that you are not done yet. But that doesn’t really work the same way if you are giving a presentation in front of an audience, does it?
You can scroll back up to read my section about replacing a filler word. But I assure you, there is more to it than that. During a typical conversation, most people don’t even recognize when they have just used a filler word in a sentence. After all, it has become such a normal part of our language and culture.
Even though it is so commonly practiced, filler words can have some consequences. For example, did you know that using them during an interview can hurt your chances of getting a job? Or make you sound less intelligent?
As we already covered before, you should use a pause in place of filler words when you are speaking in front of others. But what happens if you start using these fillers without realizing it? Or you realize you’ve just used one while on the stage and you become very nervous?
Honestly, it’s not the end of the world.
Believe it or not, but this has happened to me before quite a few times. Yes, it does happen to everyone from time to time. Above all, it is important that you remain confident while on stage. Your audience is less likely to notice a few uses of “um” and “like” in between words. However, they certainly will notice if you lose your confidence and start to crumble.
So, what should you do about it? I know I say this a lot, but you can help avoid this with regular practice. And if possible, start practicing eliminating the use of filler words in your regular private conversations. This will make you more conscious of the words that come out of your mouth, and less likely for you to use filler words while speaking in public.
I also highly recommend recording both your live speeches and your rehearsals. Watch these later, and take note of how many times you use filler words. You can also get creative with this and write down things you say that are likely to lead to you using filler words.
Conclusion: How to Make Speech Pauses?
Today, we covered instances where you should use pauses in your speech, effective methods to do so, and how pausing during a presentation is different than in everyday conversation. These tips are meant to give you more confidence when you are speaking in public. Because when you know how and when to pause, you will feel and appear more professional.
So, can you think of any other effective ways how to make speech pauses? If you can, feel free to leave them in a comment in order to continue the discussion.
Hopefully, this post has got you thinking about how you can use pauses in your speech to improve it, and to help make you a better public speaker. If you are interested in more tips to help you speak like a professional, check out these 27 speech writing tips from seasoned pros.
How long do I pause for? You should generally pause for between one to three seconds at a time. A pause at the end of a paragraph would be around three seconds, but the end of a sentence would probably be between one to two. Use discretion when deciding how long to pause for.
How often should I pause during my speech? You should pause whenever the situation warrants it. Generally, make sure there is more time you are speaking than what you are pausing for. Record yourself giving a speech with your planned pauses, and write down how much you have paused to keep track of it.
Why do people use filler words like “um” and “uh”? Filler words are often used during everyday speech in place of a momentary pause. Because the pause is used to indicate you are ready for the next person to speak, filler words are used at the end of sentences, to change the topic, or when you lose your place.