The Power (and danger) Of The Pause

Written by David Pullan

The Power (and danger) Of The Pause

Before I go any further let me explain the picture of the paws.

Have you any idea how difficult it is to find a picture to represent a pause?

A pause is by its nature a silence, an emptiness, a gap. It is nothing.

Except people like McKechnie and me bang on about the power of the pause. Chuck a few of these into your communication toolkit and gravitas, leadership credibility and power will be yours. It’s almost as if Mr Kipling has pushed aside his exceedingly good cakes and said, ‘Pause…and you’ll be a man my son.’

Except if you get it wrong you will look like a manipulative plonker.

Pauses can be dangerous.

I’ve watched a couple of online speeches this week where some coach or writer has quite obviously said to the poor presenter, ‘Pause at this point and it will really help your  message and sincerity.’

The trouble is that when the poor presenters came to the pause they had no idea what to do.

One of them looked as if they were silently counting to three before carrying on. The other pulled some extraordinary face from ‘The Art Of Coarse Acting’ in an attempt to signify that they were searching for the right words.

Both of them looked terrible.

Now that’s not to say that a well crafted pause can’t work, but you have to be a very good writer and an even better performer to pull it off.

Unless you think about what the pause can actually represent, and how to use it powerfully.

Let’s look at two ways.

Feedback: Communication is of no use whatsoever unless it lands. The only way you will know if it has landed is by looking at your target, the audience, and checking. And the only way you can do this is by pausing. 

In that pause you might see nods of agreement, you might see looks of bewilderment, or you might even see eyes closing in boredom. Whatever happens you will have received feedback and you can use that feedback to adjust your content or delivery method.

Looking For The Right Words: Now I know that example two of my two purposeless pausers was somebody looking for the right words; except they weren’t. They were very obviously working from a poorly memorized and a poorly performed script.

This is why I hate scripted speeches unless they are very well written and very well rehearsed. They can look phony. They can end up looking more about the speaker than the audience.

Of course you need to know your messages, but it is important that you deliver those messages from your heart. In order to do this the words need to be yours.

Whenever we start presenting there is a danger of feeling we have to be perfect and slick. I’ve said before that I find perfect and slick to be weird and that it is much more engaging to see someone who is authentic and is crafting their exact wording in front of me. I love to watch an active mind at work.

So my second tip for using the pause is to not be afraid of being silent as you find the words you want to use right there in the moment.

So there we go; two ways to use a pause powerfully. 

Look for feedback. Look for the right word in the moment.

And if neither of those work then remember that there will always be paws.


photo credit: Melissa Emmons Photography <a href="">;</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>


  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'