The Power of the Pause

By Heather Baldwin

Want to make a powerful impression at your next presentation? Then remember this rule: silence is golden. Sounds crazy, right? Believe it or not, you can be a lot more persuasive and project greater confidence if you take the time to pause and punctuate the air with a few beats of silence throughout your presentation, says Diane DiResta, president of Staten Island, NY-based DiResta Communications and author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch and Pizzazz.

Pausing works because it gives an audience time to absorb what you’ve said. Sure, they’ll hear you if you talk and talk and talk, but they won’t feel the emotional impact of your message. For that to happen, they need time to digest what you’ve just told them. “When I’m coaching a group, often presenters in that group will get up and talk a mile a minute,” says DiResta. “When we slow them down and make them pause, the rest of the group always comments on how much better that person sounded, how much more confident he or she appeared and how much better the group understood the message.”

So how can you pause for effect? Start with taking a breath and pausing for a beat or two after every sentence. It’s like punctuating air, says DiResta. “Pauses are spoken punctuation. Just as you don’t want written text without periods and commas, you don’t want spoken words without those same natural breaks.” So give your audience time for each sentence to get in and make an impression. Some other useful pauses, suggests DiResta, include the walk-on pause (taking a few seconds to absorb the audience’s energy before plunging into your presentation), the trigger pause (a pause that cues the audience for a reaction such as laughter or participation) and the emotional impact pause (a longer pause after a startling fact or powerful story).

Here’s the bottom line: as a salesperson, your mission is to persuade, and to do that, you need to give your potential clients time to be persuaded. “They must feel the impact of what you are saying and that takes silence,” DiResta concludes. “If your words rush by them, the listeners will hear data. But if you finish with a long, dramatic pause, the audience will feel the emotions of your message.”

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