As a Business English Language trainer, I spend much of my time helping my clients use or find their words in English to boost their confidence in business communication. However, we don’t often spend a lot of time using silence or pauses as a tool of communication. And yet, it is one of the most effective tools you can use especially when you are presenting in English or in any language for that matter.
In this article I want to explore the reasons why the effective use of pauses in presentations can help you be a confident presenter in English.
1. Pauses help your audience follow and understand you
If you’re explaining a complicated situation or critical information, a moment of silence allows your audience to process and absorb your message.
Similarly, pausing at strategic moments creates a smooth transition from one point to another. It also prevents your listeners from tuning out (stop paying attention) and getting lost in your presentation or pitch.
2. Pauses create emphasis
Pausing at the right time builds emphasis and adds positive suspense that makes your audience want to listen more.
As Mark Twain said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
Silence is an effective tool for emphasising dramatic statements, important details, and points that need to be clarified. If you pause at the right moments you’ll find that your audience’s attention and interest increase.
3. Pauses control the pace of your delivery
The last thing an audience needs is a presenter who speaks too fast because they won’t be able to follow your pace for the entire presentation. It’s especially important when giving a presentation in a foreign language to slow your speaking speed. You may want your presentation to be finished in super quick time but your audience won’t thank you for it if they didn’t understand your message.
By pausing, you can control the speed at which you speak and it also gives you that all important thinking time especially when you find yourself at a loss for words.
4. Pauses help you avoid those fillers words (umm, ah, err)
You know the situation, right? You’re nervous, you’re tired or worse still, you aren’t properly prepared to give your presentation. So what happens? Without realising it, your presentation is peppered with ums, errs and ahs. Not good because what it says to your audience is you’re not prepared, you’re an inexperienced speaker and your message is not worth listening to! In other words, the complete opposite of what you’re trying to show.
Pauses, also known as, silent fillers could be a life saver here. According to Sam at English for Study, these two silent fillers are effective:
- “The deep breath – Just take a big intake of air when you’d normally say ‘err’. A big breath will help you to relax and think.
- The long sound – If you need to think, just make the last sound of the word longer. For example, “I think we err need to think more about this” becomes, “I think wee need to think more about this.” (Source: English for Study)
5. Pauses are healthy
Lengthy pauses (7-8 seconds) are healthy because they allow you to take deep breaths (avoids those filler words), swallow, or even drink water. Not only will this help your brain (by providing more oxygen), but it will help with your voice because you’re keeping your throat and mouth lubricated.
6. Pauses help engage your audience
If you don’t pause during your presentation, your audience consumes so much effort and energy just keeping up with you that the experience can often leave them frustrated.
If you, however, pause and allow your audience to reflect on your words or your message, you will find they start engaging much more with you because those pauses allow them to connect your words with their own experiences. When your message resonates with your audience, you develop a connection with them which is exactly what you want.
7. Pauses allow your mind to “catch up” to your mouth
According to Andrew Duglan in his article “Speech Pauses: 12 Techniques to speak volumes with your silence”, a speaker performs two tasks simultaneously (at the same time):
- “The first task is internal, and involves thinking what to say (and what to do) next.
- The second task is external, and involves vocally projecting those words, using body language, and other interactions with an audience.
Ideally, the internal tasks build up a queue of words and actions for a speaker to deliver, always having words ready when needed. Pausing gives the advantage to the internal task, and helps your mind “catch up” to your mouth.”
This is especially important when presenting in a foreign language. You have all the words swimming around in your head and you’re trying to get them all in a coherent structure before they “hit” your mouth and you start speaking. Taking deep breaths and pausing will give your mind the crucial time it needs before you start speaking.
8. Pauses demonstrate confidence
Effective pauses demonstrate your control and confidence about your message.
If you’re brave enough to break your flow of speech, it will show authority, support your nonverbal communication and enhance your relationship with your audience.
When done properly, pauses don’t suggest unease or lack of knowledge, but grace and power.
Coming up……Pause Techniques
Now that we’ve looked at the reasons why pauses are an effective communication tool in presentations, we can look at pause techniques, in other words the different types of pauses and when you should use them.
These techniques are what I will be sharing with you in the weeks ahead so stay tuned…..
Ciao for now.