When Silence Is Golden: The Power of the Pause

When you’re presenting and you’re passionate about the subject matter, or familiar with the content and just can’t wait to share what you know, it can feel awkward to stop and pause. A well-timed pause, though, is just as valuable to your audience as it is to you as the speaker.

Speaking slowly, deliberately, and carefully gives people a chance to reflect on your words and what they mean. We don’t remember concepts because we hear them, or understand them, we remember concepts because they mean something to us and evoke an emotional response. When you pause, you’re giving the audience sufficient time to process the information and let your message stick. A pause allows people to not only hear what you said, but actually listen to the message.

If you’re asking for group participation, it’s important to remember this: It takes at least 12 seconds for our brains to come up with an answer.

Read that again: It takes at least 12 seconds for our brains to come up with an answer.

According to Fast Company, our brains can only think of one idea at a time.  We need time to shift gears. When a trainer asks a question of the group, what happens when no one responds? It might not be that they don't know the answer, it might be that they haven't had a chance to process the question. In order to give everyone a fair shot at responding (and get more quality answers), try counting to at least three in your mind (one Mis-sis-sip-pi, two Mis-sis-sip-pi, three Mis-sis-sip-pi) before repeating the question or rewording it. Or, ask your audience to reflect first on paper and make changes as necessary. Then, incorporate reflection time, coaching your learners to value the practice of reflection. “Once they get used to the fact that silence is being used for learning, they get comfortable with themselves,” explains Becky Pike Pluth, president and CEO of The Bob Pike Group. “Give the question, assign a team leader, give the question again, allow learners 30 seconds to consider that question, then begin the discussion.”

Consider using that precious pause to give people a chance to process their thoughts and better contribute to the conversation. It might feel weird at first, but it’s a great way to give the audience time to reflect and absorb what they’re learning, allows you time to slow down and catch your breath, and gives your words more power and emphasis. According to Mark Twain, “The right word may be effective, but nothing has ever been as effective as a rightly timed pause.”    

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