Why Silence Speaks Volumes: The Importance of Pausing in Effective Public Speaking

A speech is not only composed of words. Pauses are just as important. They regulate the rhythm of the speech and make it sound more natural and spontaneous.

Many speakers are afraid of pausing. They see it as a moment of nothing, of emptiness. Yet, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Pausing helps to convey the message more effectively. It allows you to collect your thoughts and your audience to follow what you’re saying. It helps to keep them engaged.

Messages aren’t just conveyed by what we say, but also by what we do not say.

Benefits of Pausing

In a normal conversation with a friend, you pause more often than you think. You pause to restructure the sentence in your head or to make sure they are following. When you’re giving a presentation, however, you tend to speed up through your bullet points. This will make you lose the most critical element in public speaking: the connection with the audience.

Grab Attention

A moment of silence can help to grab the attention of the room. You were speaking and then, silence. Why did you stop?

If you pause before you say something important, it will build anticipation. You can even use it before you start the speech at all. After someone introduces you, stop and smile for a few seconds. Every single person in the audience will look at you. You may feel uncomfortable, but it is worth getting used to it.


Pauses help to avoid a monotonous tone. If you tend to speak faster while presenting, they can have the impact of loud noise. A sudden moment of silence will make the audience attentive to what you’ll say next.


The whole goal of a presentation is for the audience to understand the message. There is no point in giving a speech if no one knows what you mean. Pausing is a powerful tool to facilitate understanding.

Every time you pause, you’re allowing the audience to think about what you have said. They can make sense of it. The more complex your topic is, the more long pauses you should do.


A pause emphasizes a specific piece of information. Pauses tell your audience that you said something important. Something for them to keep in mind. Pause before a sentence you want to highlight.

Inside the group of emphatic pauses, we can talk about the dramatic pause. Not exactly the same, but very close. When telling a story, you can use a pause to make suspense. This pause will raise the levels of adrenaline in your audience.

These pauses are very versatile and help to engage the audience and enhance memorability.


Pausing is the perfect way to separate two different topics or ideas. A pause works in the spoken words, like paragraphs in the written speech.

Regain Control

During your speech, and for several different reasons, you may feel the need to regain control of the situation. Pausing is the best way to do it.

There may be too much noise in the room, or you may get confused and start rambling. Pause. It will help you to reorganize your ideas, and the audience will pay attention to you.

Another situation in which you may need to pause to gain control is during the Q&A session. Pausing helps you to gain time to think about the question and raises anticipation.


If you are using humor, you may want to give time to your audience to pick it up.

Avoid running into something else if a joke or funny anecdote doesn’t have the immediate effect you were expecting. Laughing is contagious. When someone in the audience laughs, the others will probably follow them. You need to give them time to understand and laugh.


Some content in your speech or presentation may need extra time to contemplate. That can happen due to its complexity, or because it is too emotional or personal. If you don’t give them time to reflect on what you said, you’d be wasting insightful ideas.

These pauses are tricky, though. People need to internalize what you just told them, but be careful not to make a pause too long. If you’re talking about feelings and personal experiences, a longer pause may lead them to think about a whole lot of other things, and it will be difficult to get them back on track.

How long should the pauses be?

When the pause becomes too long? It is a common question, and most of the time, speakers use their instinct to decide how long a pause should be.

Depending on the type of pause, and your intention with it, there are a few guidelines that can help you. Typically, a pause lasts one to two seconds. If you intend to do a dramatic pause, then extend it to 4-6 seconds.

Pay attention to your audience. They will give you the best feedback about the effectiveness of your pauses.

A study from Columbia University’s Speech Lab shows that pauses are a natural part of the conversation. We use them, almost without notice in our day to day speech. They conclude that pauses are correlated with more truthful, trustworthy, and genuine speeches.

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

Mark Twain

Stop talking to talk better

Great speeches can become a mess of entangled ideas, hard to grasp if the speaker doesn’t stop to emphasize them or give space for the audience to make sense of them. They need to be able to absorb what you are saying and understand your point of view.

As a speaker, you will look more confident and credible. Your message becomes more clear, and the pauses will decrease the number of annoying filler words in your speech.

Make yourself comfortable with pausing and rehearse intensely to find out the best moments to do it in your presentation.

Cátia is a psychologist who is passionate about helping children develop and train social skills.


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