“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”
~ Jack Benny
Many people overlook the power of a good pause. Whether you are telling your best friend a story or delivering a speech to a room of 1,000, silence can be your best friend.
So why do so many people forget to pause? Generally people feel uncomfortable with silence, hence the phrase "awkward silence." But this discomfort is also culturally defined. Americans, like myself for example, do not like silence. If a room goes quiet everyone panics to think of something to say. If we're on a first date, the goal is to keep up constant conversation. If we don't, it means we don't "click." Not all cultures are like this though.
My husband is from Denmark. The first time I met his family I was amazed by how quiet they were. In my family it's hard to get a word in, whereas his family can sit through long stretches of silence without even thinking about it. The first time I met them, I kept trying to fill the silence, worried that it meant they didn't like me. Their comment to my husband later on was, "She's a really nice girl, but she sure does talk a lot!" Granted, I talk more than most anyway, but in this case it was really bad!
Since then I've learned to enjoy silence, not fear it.
So how can you use pauses to your advantage? There are a number of instances where you should practice the power of pause:
1. Pause according to punctuation. You should always pause for periods and commas.
2. When you change topics or finish an important idea, pause so that your audience can digest what was just said.
3. Pause and check for understanding more often with individuals who don't have English as a native language.
4. Use a good pause as a cliff hanger in a story. It will get people's minds racing!
5. Pauses can grab attention. If you notice people aren't paying attention, go silent and see how long it takes them to react. It will be quick!
6. Pause after you tell a joke. If you're lucky enough to get laughter, just bask in it! If no one is laughing it might just take them a second to "get" what you said.
7. Give your audience time to answer the questions you ask. I can't stand it when speakers answer their own questions! It's intimidating for people to speak out in a big crowd. Give them time to not only formulate an answer, but also build up the courage to respond.
Did you realize you had so many opportunities to pause?