Applause for the Pause

                                           APPLAUSE FOR THE PAUSE

Every great comedian knows the value of timing, that attention getting pause before the punch line. Jack Benny was a master who could reduce the toughest audience to laughter with a simple pause. (We used to watch him on the old black and white TV before colour. You can see him demonstrating his technique on you tube) Unfortunately, most speakers, particularly less experienced ones are unable or unwilling to apply this basic principle of timing to serious speeches.

Many speakers are deathly afraid of silence and consequently, fill the pauses between thoughts with aggravating umms and ahhs. The more speaker uses ‘Well, ‘And so’ or with extended vowel sounds as in So-o-o-o. All of these void fillers are distracting, a superfluity of uhhs often leads the audience to the conclusion that the speaker doesn’t know what to say next.

Why is a pause for effect effective? How can you determine where a pause belongs? How can you consciously incorporate pauses into your speech to improve your timing? Lets pause a moment and consider. Silence attracts attention. In an increasingly noisy world this is especially true. In fact, when you are about to begin speaking to an audience where they are chatting to each other, walk to the lectern, stand there for a moment, remain silent as you look around the room and soon they will become quiet, wait a few seconds longer and then you can begin because you will have their attention.

Think back to your early school days. The teacher is talking at the front of the room; the class is bored. One student whispers to another and soon no one is listening to the teacher. But when the teacher abruptly stops talking the pupils rapidly snap to attention.

Used before an important statement, a pause will focus the audience’s attention on the information to come. A pause after an important statement can be equally effective and is often necessary. It gives the audience a chance to reflect on the speakers comment and to grasp its meaning.

A brief pause is often an effective way to separate one main topic or point from the next There is a natural break in the rhythm of the speech when the topic changes. You also can show your audience it’s there for a reason by pointing it out with your hand. A deliberate gesture toward the audience during a pause will underline the importance of your message.

Don’t panic, practice. It takes courage to use pauses for the first time. Practice the speech until the pauses feel natural, remember a silence of three or four seconds may feel like an eternity to you the speaker, but to the audience it won’t seem too long. And while you pause close your lips tightly to stop yourself from umming or ahhing.

Remember to use pauses in all situations, whether you are speaking to one or one thousand people, when you are asked a question, pause for a moment to reflect on your answer. It will appear as if you have given the question some thought and to answer more intelligently, and when you ask a question of someone, pause and wait for them to answer, especially if you are asking a person or an audience to decide on an issue

Here is a concluding anecdote to illustrate the effective us of a pause.

Miss Henderson, a retired Headmistress of a junior school and all her life a spinster, saw me at the Rondebosch shopping centre, after we greeted each other, I asked, ‘So what’s new Miss Henderson?’ She answered, ‘Well young man, I’ve decided to add a new clause to my final will and testament’  ‘’Please tell me about it’ I said. ‘ÓK, I’ve decided I want female pall bearers when I die’ “But Miss Henderson,’ I answered, ‘that’s usually a man’s job, to take the coffin out of the church, why would you want the women to do that for you?’ To which she answered, ‘Well if the men wouldn’t take me out when I was alive (Pause) They sure aren’t going to do so when I die!’   It’s the pause that gets the laugh, works every time. Try it if you haven’t done so already and enjoy

Like the old advert for a well-known brand of tea, ‘Its the PAUSE that refreshes

Martin, tips for speakers

Think and grow wealthy healthy and wise


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