“Mr. Gorbachev…[Pause for Dramatic Effect]…Tear Down This Wall”

speaking pause




Power Pause Techniques

Not sure where to begin with leveraging the pause technique? Let’s take a look.

The following are some “power of the pause” techniques to practice as you rehearse your speeches: 

  • Clause Pause: Use short pauses where there is normally a comma that separates two clauses or particular items in a long list. “Wanting to impress my girlfriend, [pause] I brought flowers, [pause] wine, [pause] and dessert.” 
  • Sentence Pause: Use medium pauses wherever a period, question mark, or exclamation point normally appears in order to separate two sentences. “After six days of climbing, we summited Mount Kilimanjaro. [pause] I can’t believe I actually did it!” 
  • Paragraph Pause: Use long pauses when you transition from one idea to the next. In written language, we always indent when starting a new paragraph. The same is true with speaking. The pause sends a signal preparing the listener that something important or unique is about to happen. 
  • Emphasis Pause: While creating emphasis is a result of using strategic pauses, sometimes you may want to draw attention to one or two key words. Pause immediately before and after that word or phrase, thus signaling the listener that what you are about to say is important. [pause] And the Oscar goes to [pause] Tom Hanks! 
  • Rhetorical Question Pause: It’s gratifying to watch heads nod in an audience when you pose a rhetorical question. This motivates your audience to stay engaged as they contemplate the answer to your question. Overall, your aim is to provoke a thought that lends credence to your message. On the other hand, failure to pause after posing a rhetorical question often frustrates your audience. 

Take Goldilocks Approach

We’re all familiar with Goldilocks’s intrusion into The Three Bears’ home, wherein she tried everyone’s porridge, chairs, and beds.

She found things to be too hot or big, too cold or small, but she did ultimately find the options that were just right. That’s just how the use of pause in speech communication can be, which can make the application of this technique frustrating and a bit ambiguous when trying to practice your speech or presentation. 

I videotape many of my clients and, like a movie director, do several takes to see which one works best.

It will seem awkward at first; most pauses do. However, once you master this technique, all other aspects of your delivery are bound to significantly improve. Take care not to overwork the pause, lest you sound rehearsed and stilted.

Also, like many techniques that can help improve, it can be overdone as well. Don’t fall into that trap. Use them judiciously. Sometimes less is more. 

Related articles: 

Keys to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

Overcoming the Dread of Public Speaking

13 Practical Best Practices for Public Speaking


About the author

Chuck Garcia

Chuck is an author, executive coach, keynote speaker, and CEO of Climb Leadership International. He coaches executives on public speaking and leadership communication. A 25-year veteran of Wall Street, he spent several of those in leadership positions at Bloomberg, BlackRock, and Citadel. He is also adjunct associate professor at Columbia University where he teaches leadership communication in The Fu Foundation Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science. He leverages his business leadership experience, as well as his hobby of mountain climbing, to provide an effective teaching narrative for professionals applying his tools and techniques. In his book A Climb to the Top, an Amazon best seller, draws on years of coaching and consulting experience to explain how you can become a powerful and persuasive communicator. Chuck is a graduate of Syracuse University and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership.