It’s easy to forget how powerful a moment of silence can be. We’re all so busy, we’ve got so much to do. We’re rushing through our day on the phone, juggling messages, racing to pick up the kids.
My twins, Ruby and Mac, are nine months old now. The time has moved so fast since their birth that my wife, Laura and I would love to have a pause button we could hit and savor every moment more deeply.
Many people who come to Interact Studio to become their best selves could use a pause button too, so their listeners could savor and truly hear their message.
Practicing the pause
For so many of us, when we stand to speak, adrenaline hits, we kick it into gear and talk without stopping while connecting our thoughts with “um,” “uh,” and “and.” This is stressful for listeners who are trying to keep up, much less savor anything we have to say.
Recently a young man named Brian attended a course at Interact Studio. “I’ve had dozens of people tell me that I speak too fast” he said. “I can’t fix it. It’s just who I am!
We’ve all worked with people like Brian who talk so quickly in normal conversation, you find yourself wondering if they missed their true calling as an auctioneer or rapper.
Add the adrenaline that comes with presenting, and these people find it impossible to “just slow down.” However, learning to pause for just a second between thoughts is manageable.
9 tips for effective pausing
Watching my kids I know that silence is filled with power and possibility. There are too many benefits to count, but for speakers at least, here are nine:
- Audience understanding. A pause tells listeners, “new paragraph” or “transition.” Listeners can’t just sponge up the spoken word without pausing to assimilate.
- Thoughtfulness. Silence invites listeners to experience thoughtfulness. If you reflect on what you’ve just said, we will as well. Don’t say something profound and jump to the next thought. We’ll miss it all together.
- Breathing. Oxygen cures most ailments of the self-conscious speaker. A breath of air will calm you, keep your brain from shutting down and allow your voice to project. If you do not pause, you cannot breathe properly.
- Trust. First, trust that you have something important to say. Trust even more that pausing will give you access to your own authenticity. Listeners will trust that your words come from the heart.
- Clarity without clutter. The hidden power of the intentional pause lies in the counteraction of unnecessary nonwords. Under the stress of adrenaline, many of us “um” it up. Pausing will eliminate the bulk of nonwords.
- Emphasis. If you want listeners to take special note of a point you’re about to make, pause before you say it. If you want to emphasize something you’ve said, pause and say it again.
- Creativity. Harvard professor Howard Gardner argues that five minutes of thoughtful reflection in the morning will contribute to your level of creativity throughout the day. If you feel you’re too busy to pause for five minutes, all the more reason to pause for five minutes.
- Confidence. If you learn to make a connection with your audience in a moment of silence, you can relax into a real conversation. Listeners will relax when they see that you are confident and comfortable with silence.
- Listening. Learn to slow down and listen to yourself and to others. Instead of jumping into a conversation at every opportunity to match insights, allow natural stops that invite others to comment. The willingness to be silent is attractive, and it empowers the other person to fully express.