Having all just experienced 2020’s so-called Great Pause first-hand, you’d think we’d have got better at understanding the power – good and bad – of interruption. When it comes to presenting and public speaking, however, correctly judging a pause – neither so long that you lose your audience, nor so short that any and all emphasis is lost – is notoriously difficult. Yet the power of the pause in presentations shouldn’t be underestimated. Get it right, and you’ll have your audience exactly where you want them to be: attentive, engaged and with you all the way.
Here are seven easy-to-include pauses that will help you to do just that. – along with why you need them, when to use them and to what effect.
1: Pause to… Connect
Most people start a presentation by saying something like: ‘Morning everyone and thanks for joining the call, the objective of today’s meeting is…’ You can hear how utterly insincere that ‘hello and thank you’ sounds – it is perfunctory to the point of dismissive. All because of a (lack of) pause. And while, yes, such introductions are so commonplace you could argue we’ve become inured to them, on a subconscious level
such insincerity sticks. Pausing makes a real connection with people and lets them know you actually mean what you say. So when you greet your audience, pause. When you thank your audience – whether at the start or end of your presentation – say it like you mean it and, pause.
2: Pause to… Create a dialogue
At BeSpoke, we’ve identified a common weakness among presenters that we call the ‘Star of the Show fallacy’ – the idea that a presentation is all about them and their content. There are multiple ways such presenters reinforce this sentiment, but one of the key identifiers is never pausing long enough for the audience to ask questions or even keep up with them.
Remember: the most important people in the room are your listeners, not you. All great presenters know this and have mastered the art of pausing throughout their presentations. This gives the impression they are having a dialogue with the audience (see Connecting above). It also gives their listeners a chance to ask questions. Online presentations, in particular, need more frequent pauses for discussion to keep listeners engaged. An involved audience is an engaged audience, and an engaged audience understands and remembers more. And isn’t that what every presenter wants?
3: Pause to… Chunk information
In design, a clever visual lay-out presents content in a way that makes it clear to read and easy to absorb and understand. In written documents, punctuation and paragraphing does the same. In a presentation, micro-pausing between thoughts serves a similar purpose, delivering your message in digestible ‘chunks’. Steve Jobs was a master of information-chunking. When I play clips of his presentations to
clients, they’re always amazed how frequently he paused (while still sounding completely conversational). That’s because when we speak conversationally, we pause all the time.
4: Pause to… Land the point
To ensure your listeners walk away from your presentation with the key messages you want them to, you need to make them STAND OUT. The single most effective way to do that, is to pause. Use highlighting phrases to tee up your key message: ‘The critical point to remember here is…’; ‘Ultimately what this all means is …’; ‘Most importantly…’ and so on. Then, following a suitable pause, deliver your message clearly, concisely and convincingly. Pause again once you’ve landed your message. This pause is vital to give your audience the time to absorb and, crucially, remember your important messages.
5: Pause to… Create suspense
Not all pauses are created equal. While general micro-pausing is a key tool to ensuring your presentation lands as a whole, every now and then you’ll be looking to make one point in particular stand out. That’s when it’s time to roll out the big guns – aka the ‘extended pause’.
The right deployment of a deliberate, extended pause (longer, but not too long – you’re not announcing the winner of Masterchef) creates a moment of suspense. It’s particularly useful when delivering a message at the end of a story, or before the punchline of a humorous anecdote, or… when you’re about to say something unexpected. Done right (by which I mean still holding the audience’s attention with your eye contact), leaving the audience waiting to hear what comes next doesn’t just build anticipation, it can help refocus attention. Don’t overdo it however, or it will become predictable or – worse still – wearying. Handle with care.
6: Pause to… Let your audience process
How many times have you sat in a presentation where the presenter’s shared some interesting data but raced through it and moved on to the next slide so quickly no one gets the chance to digest it properly? Too many to recall, I’d wager – it’s one of the most common presentation slip-ups I see.
The solution is so straightforward. Walk your audience through your data at a measured pace. Then, pause to allow the impact of it sink in. It only takes a few seconds. But that few seconds can mean the difference between your audience scratching their heads in confusion or – arguably worse – smiling and pretending they understand what you’re talking about. Either way, they’ll leave your presentation none the wiser.
The same rationale applies when you deliver a thought-provoking quote. Too many presenters narrate the quote and then race onto the next slide. Pause momentarily post-delivery and the audience will have time to reflect on its meaning. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes. And finally,
7. Pause to… Change gear
Most presentations are split into sections, rather like the chapters in a book. Book chapters, you’ll recall, are physically (as well as narratively) separated by page breaks and chapter headings; visual ‘pauses’ that signal to the reader that one part of the story is finishing and moving them onto the next. Used correctly in a presentation, a longish pause does the same. These longer pauses in a presentation don’t just benefit for your audience. They’re useful because breaking between sections in this way gives you the chance to re-energise and, if appropriate, change the tone of the presentation (when going from Problem to Solution, for example). Just like turning over onto a fresh page.
So there you have it. If you want to deliver more memorable message and an engaging performance, remembering the power of the pause in presentations is paramount. It is, however, only part of what counts. To make truly impactful presentations you have to ensure every part of your message is powerful and, wherever possible, thought-provoking. We can, of course, help you master that too.
For more tips on the power of the pause in presentations or presenting in general, sign up here to have the BeSpoke newsletter delivered straight to your inbox. Or, if you’d like to discuss any of our online communication skills or presentation skills programmes, email firstname.lastname@example.org.