Silence is a source of Great Strength.”
― Lao Tzu

It’s easy to believe in the notion that public speaking is all about what you say. In reality, the most memorable speeches often utilize silence. In those quiet moments, both the audience and the speaker are given an extended breath to think. To question. To be present. Pauses are powerful. Here are three ways to use them to your advantage.    

1. Pause for Gestures

Did you know body language accounts for more than fifty percent of how people communicate? Were you aware that the majority of the population identifies themselves as visual learners? When giving a public speech, it’s easy to rely so heavily on your words that you forget how important nonverbal communication is. However, pauses can help. During your speech, incorporate pauses to act out what you are saying. If you are sharing an anecdote about walking to school when you were younger, pause your speech to reenact the moment. By pairing your words with gestures, your speech will come alive, making it easier for the audience to remember.  

2. Pause for Emotions

Conveying deep emotion requires the proper word choice and tone. But pausing after emotional statements can further emphasize your feelings. When you share a powerful sentiment that involves sorrow, frustration or disappointment, give the audience a few seconds of silence to digest the weight of that moment. If you speed past the emotions you express, listeners may not grasp the magnitude of your feelings. Likewise, you can pause for effect in the middle of a joyous sentence. For example, instead of saying, “I was so elated”, replace the word “so” with a pause. Utilize that short emotional pause to insert excited body language, and then continue. With the use of pauses, emotional points of your speech can become moments of empathy for your audience.   

3. Pause For Questions

  • After Asking a Question:

Many speeches contain rhetorical questions. Inserting an intentional pause immediately after your question allows your audience time to think. You can also use post-question pauses to give your listeners a chance to participate introspectively. Pause after posing a hypothetical question or when encouraging the audience to “think about a time when”.   

  • Before Answering a Question:

If you’ve planned a question-and-answer period, it’s wise to pause before answering each question. Pausing gives you a chance to process the inquiry and construct a thorough answer. Remember, the audience doesn’t want a rushed, partial response, they want a complete, informative response (even if that requires you to think for a few extra seconds).  

“I often regret that I have spoken; never that I have been silent.” 
– Publilius Syrus

When constructing your next speech, ask yourself whether you are placing words into spaces where silence would suffice. If so, leave those pauses open for illustrative gestures, lingering emotions and processing thoughts. Let your silence be loud. Your audience will be glad you did.