Most leaders focus far more on the content of their speech than the pauses they use. Am I describing you?
What if you gave people time to think about your message? What impact would it have?
The State of the Union address provides one of the most well-known examples of the use of pauses in public speaking.
Unfortunately, most presidents abuse pauses and allow for far too much clapping and standing ovations. (I’ve seen this problem in both political parties and often struggle to understand why the White House speechwriters continue to let it happen. Please note that my use of this metaphor should not be construed as a political statement.)
A few well-chosen pauses would seem to have a much greater impact than the continual pausing that occurs every year in January. Don’t get me wrong. Millions of people listen to the speech every year. But how many more would listen if the speech was shorter and integrated strategic silence rather than continual pauses?
I do think most Presidents of the United States utilize at least a few effective pauses during their State of the Union addresses; however, the custom of continual standing ovations obscures the impact of the moments of silence. The State of the Union address usually feels more like a monotony of statements and standing ovations rather than powerful public speaking that informs, persuades or motivates the nation.
I believe if you do any public speaking, you likely struggle to balance your speaking and moments of silence. Thus I believe it’s imperative that all public speakers plan for silence to offset and support the most important content of a speech.
Try this 7 Step Process to Plan for Silence in Your Speaking:
1) Identify 3 Key Points or Questions
Random pauses create a jarring effect that may not accomplish your goals. Intentional pauses create an environment for new thinking and action steps. As you look over your speech, you shouldn’t have 15 main points. Focus on having only 1-5 major points. What are they?
Write those down.
Write them down right now. (Please don’t read further until you write the main points down.)
Now that you can see those points in front of you, think about how pauses will reinforce these primary messages.
2) Write Down the Word(s) You Will Say
If you hate writing out a full manuscript, don’t worry. You don’t have to.
But for major points, you must write them down and also write down exactly how you will say them.
When you write down the exact words, you clarify your message and prepare yourself to emphasize what matters. (See my other post in this public speaking series about bringing clarity to your messages. You may also want to figure out how to measure what matters).
Do any of these words carry more weight than others? Underline or highlight the most powerful words of your main points.
3) Decide How to Pause
Figuring out your main message only gets the process started. Now you have to decide how you will pause.
Try using one or more of these methods of pausing:
A. Staccato Speech
Plan. For. Silence.
The best speakers vary their rate, rhythm, and repetition when speaking.
Technically, staccato speech describes the enunciation of syllables. But we can also apply this approach to words in a phrase or sentence.
Plan. For. Silence.
B. Brief Increase in Volume
When you boost your volume temporarily, people take notice. Please, please, please do not speak loudly ALL THE TIME.
A quick increase in volume draws people into your speech. It reengages those whose minds drifted. It reminds you to speak intentionally.
Make sure you STOP after the volume increase. Let your words sink in to your listeners’ minds.
C. Ask a Rhetorical Question
People like questions. Questions invite engagement. Questions coupled with silence demand a response (even if the rhetorical question solicits an internal response).
What question could you ask in your next speech? Write it here:
Make sure you decide how you will pause. The three examples above do not exhaust the options available. Figure out how you will pause, so that you plan for silence from the beginning.
4) Practice Your Plan for Silence
You will never properly plan for silence if you don’t practice your plan for silence. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but intentionally practicing your plan for silence makes silence a strategic asset.
You may not rehearse your entire message (although I always think you should practice beforehand); however, failing to practice your plan for silence usually eliminates effective pauses and reduces the full impact of your speech.
5) Create a Reminder to Pause
If you utilize notes, an outline, or a full manuscript DURING your speech, you can easily write reminders, highlight text, or “cue” yourself in some way.
If you don’t use notes, find another way to remind yourself. Structure your message in a way that integrates your plan for silence with each major point. Put something on a PowerPoint or Keynote slide to remind you. I don’t care how you remind yourself — I just want you to remind yourself of your pause.
6) Build Momentum or Volume Before Pausing
Momentum before silence maximizes the impact of pausing. Speed up slowly and steadily, then rapidly sprint to your pause.
The silence will be deafening (for you especially). For your audience, they will stop to think about what you said immediately before the pause.
7) Visualize the Impact of the Pause(s)
You will create unhelpful silence if you don’t convince yourself of its value or impact beforehand. Visualize the impact.
What questions will your listeners ask themselves? What conclusions will they come to while thinking? Who will struggle to block out distractions and will reengage because of the silence created by your pauses?
Know the value of a quality plan for silence, then deliver on it. Your audience will thank you.Know the value of a quality plan for silence, then deliver on it. Click To Tweet
Did you take time to work through the steps above? If so, great! What was most difficult? If you didn’t set aside time, stop now. Seriously…stop.
In what ways have you seen people effectively use pauses to plan for silence? Please let me know as I want to grow in this area as well.
This post is part of a series of posts on Public Speaking. Feel free to check out any post in the series.1) Public Speaking Tips for Leaders 2) 10 Intentional Public Speaking Gestures 3) 10 Ways to Clarify Your Message As a Public Speaker 4) 5 Tips to Clarify Your Intended Result for Your Audience 5) 7 Ways to Begin Your Public Speech With a Bang
6) 7 Steps to Practice Beforehand as a Public Speaker
7) 10 Ways to Use Repetition in Public Speaking 8) 7 Step Process to Plan for Silence in Your Speaking
9) 5 Ways to Match the Message to a Mission
10) 10 Ways to Evaluate Your Public Speaking