Best tips 2: how and why to pause when speaking in public

pause button

What a difference …

… a pause makes!

We are paid to write words.  But what makes a great script work brilliantly, are the silences between them.

Silence creates rhythm.  It creates suspense.  It’s like white space on a page; you just can’t help but be drawn-in by it.


Clearly, standing-up and remaining silent for ten minutes is pushing things too far!  On the other hand, that approach will create more impact than speaking at a furious pace of 200 words per minute without stopping for breath.  The key is the right balance.  Using the pause to get the very most from your content.

Make it easy for your audience

You are only giving a speech to convey a message. You might be explaining something.  Selling.  Motivating.  Persuading.  Or entertaining.  Either way, you are speaking so your audience can react.  To do that they need to go through a three stage process: Listen, digest, react.  The pause enables them to go through these stages seamlessly.  They have time to absorb your words.  To interpret and analyse.  And then to move forward.  That process requires time.  Time that you can create by remaining completely silent.

Great examples

Think Dame Tessa Jowell in the House of Lords.  Hillary Benn in the Syria debate.  Oprah on #MeToo.  Obama constantly.  Different speakers; different styles, but each with something in common:  the knowledge that a pause at the right time catapults mere words to the next level.  The pauses they take don’t read as a lack of confidence. They convey assuredness. They point to accomplished speakers who want to maximise impact.  Who value their words so much that they frame them with silence.  And when an audience sees the value you place on the words you’re saying, they tend to do the same.


Pacing is, in many ways, the most important aspect of your delivery. We suggest that you want to average about 120 words a minute. It’s a lot slower than we’d talk in general conversation, and it might take some getting used to. However it will benefit your reception endlessly. It will lend gravitas and impact to your words, in a way that a rushed, garbled delivery could never do.  Speaking quickly isn’t a problem in itself.  As long as you stop between soundbites – or sentences.

The Pause Complex

My bum looks big in this.”  No it doesn’t.  “My partner’s friends don’t like me” Yes they do.  “I can’t pause for that long it sounds stupid.”  Yes you can!  When it comes to the pauses, your best bet, is to overdo it. One of the few things people struggle with more than talking on stage, are the silent moments. When we coach clients to prepare for a speech we ask them to pause for as long as they feel comfortable. At first it’s a second or two but they feel that ten seconds have passed.  They jump to the next section to fill the gap. Having the confidence to extend the silences comes with practice and by watching great speakers. We recommend pausing until the point when it borders on feeling unnatural. Remember, time passes a lot slower for you than it does for your audience. So overcompensate.

Write-in your pauses

We always write our speeches in a format that aids delivery. As well as marking words that require emphasis, we also provide a visual marker (…) for pauses. And we think that with a little practice, the combination of these guidelines and our formatting can have you speaking with the impact of a Tessa, a Hillary or an Oprah …

… in no time at all!

Further help

We can edit your first draft of a speech to include pauses, write it for you from scratch, or coach you to deliver with more impact.  More in the Best Tips series to follow soon!