Why Pause When Speaking?

Pausing After An Important Idea Gives it Time to Penetrate

 Whenever it rains the farmers hope for a nice slow rain which can soak deep into the ground.  They don’t want hard and fast rain as it will just run off and not help anything.  A speech, like a rain, will not do anybody much good if it comes too fast to soak in.

If you have given the audience a big idea, pause for a second or two and let them think about it. Take your time. Don’t let your speech resemble those tourists who try “to do” New York or Rome in a day. They spend fifteen minutes looking at the masterpieces in the Museum of Arts, ten minutes in the Museum of Natural History, take a peep into the Aquarium, hurry across the Brooklyn Bridge, rush up to the Zoo, and back by Grant’s Tomb—and call that “Seeing New York.  Or they drop by the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Forum, peek into the Basilica and say “I saw Rome.”

If you hurry by your important points without pausing, your audience will still be at the Colosseum while you have moved on to the Forum.

Take your time.  You have just as much of it as our richest multimillionaire. Your audience will wait for you. It is a sign of smallness to hurry.

Think about the great redwood trees of California.  They had burst through the soil five hundred years before Socrates drank his cup of hemlock poison, and are only in their prime today. Nature shames us with our petty haste. Silence is one of the most eloquent things in the world. Master it, and use it through pause.

In the following selections dashes have been inserted where pauses may be used effectively. Naturally, you may omit some of these and insert others without going wrong—one speaker would interpret a passage in one way, one in another; it is largely a matter of personal preference. A dozen great actors have played Hamlet well, and yet each has played the part differently. Which comes the nearest to perfection is a question of opinion.

You will succeed best by daring to follow your own course—if you are individual enough to blaze an original trail.

The worldly hope men set their hearts upon—turns ashes—or it prospers;—and anon like snow upon the desert’s dusty face—lighting a little hour or two—is gone.

The bird of time has but a little way to flutter,—and the bird is on the wing.

You will note that the punctuation marks have nothing to do with the pausing. You may run by a period very quickly and make a long pause where there is no kind of punctuation. Thought is greater than punctuation. It must guide you in your pauses.

A book of verses underneath the bough,—a jug of wine, a loaf of bread—and thou beside me singing in the wilderness—Oh—wilderness were paradise enow.

You will observe that in natural conversation our words are gathered into clusters or phrases, and we often pause to take breath between them. So in public speech, breathe naturally and do not talk until you must gasp for breath. If your audience is holding their breath until you breathe, they may faint from lack of air.

However, a serious word of caution must be mentioned: do not overwork the pause. To do so will make your speech heavy and stilted. And do not think that pause can transmute commonplace thoughts into great and dignified utterance.

The pause, to be effective in some other manner than in that of the boomerang, must precede or follow a thought that is really worthwhile, or at least an idea whose bearing upon the rest of the speech is important.

Practice your speech putting your pauses in different places until you find what fits for you.  If necessary, put a symbol in your notes for a pause, or write the word PAUSE (just don’t inadvertently read it out loud).

To your speaking success

Fran Watson


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