I hear a lot these days about the importance of pausing when you speak. It’s not a new concept, but for some reason it’s become a popular point of focus for speech coaches—pause to control your speed, pause to make your point more dramatic—and so on. That’s fine advice, but it presents a problem if you’re not used to pausing. What do you do while you pause? It has to be more than just the absence of words, and you can’t practice doing nothing.
So what do you do when you pause? You breathe, and before you roll your eyes and moan, “Not that breathing crap again,” consider this. If speech is powered by breath, if breath is the inspiration for speech, there has to be time for breath to enter your body. The act of breathing in creates the pause, naturally.
That in-breath provides power for your message. Making an impact requires you to put something out there in the room. As a speaker, that something is primarily your voice, and your voice is powered by breath. I think it’s safe to say that your ability to make an impact is connected to your ability to put some breath into the room. A pause gives you the opportunity to gather that breath.
Breathing in connects you to your inner experience; the impulse that moves you to speak in the first place. One of my colleagues put it so elegantly when he said, “The incoming breath reveals how you feel. The outgoing breath expresses how you feel.” So that pause isn’t just dead airtime. If you simply stop talking for one second and hold your breath, your listeners will wonder what happened. “Why did he freeze?” When it’s connected to your breath, that pause is alive with expectation and potential. It creates anticipation.
Pausing to breathe in enhances the clarity of your message. Another colleague of mine often says, “The actual process of communication takes place in the silence.” It’s in the silences between phrases that your listeners take in and absorb what you’ve said. Without those pauses, your message becomes a blur of words so nothing has an opportunity to penetrate and take root.
One of the biggest benefits of the breath pause is that it keeps you in command of your performance. Many speakers are unconsciously rushing themselves. They start to feel like someone running down a steep hill. Before long, they are out of control. Then panic sets in. Pausing frequently to breathe brings a very deliberate feeling to your speech. You have plenty of time to think, to speak clearly and connect with your listeners.
So much advice about presentation and public speaking is an attempt to produce the right result without understanding what’s going on under the surface to make that result possible. That tendency to focus on results puts the cart before the horse and produces mechanical performance. Pausing isn’t just another point on your presentation checklist. It’s an organic part of a larger process that cultivates a deep connection to yourself, your message, and your listeners.
For more information about speaking well and some sample exercises to get you started, click the link below and download the free booklet and video series The Sound of Success.