Public Speaking Tip 68: To Make Your Words More Memorable, Put Pauses In Your Public Speaking

Clients often ask me to help them slow down, or to sound more dramatic or authoritative.

The answer to these three very different concerns, is surprisingly the same:

It’s to add pauses between your thoughts.

Why Pause? Because You and Your Audience Both Need a Break!

Pablo Casals

My husband told me a story that’s attributed to the great cellist Pablo Casals.

Casals performed well into old age, and a student supposedly once asked him, “Maestro, you’re not a young man, but you play with extraordinary vigor. How do you maintain your energy?”

Casals is said to have replied, “I rest between the notes.”

As a public speaker, you can also “rest between the notes” (or, in this case, the ideas), and give your audience a chance to do the same, by using pauses.

How Does Speaking Without Pauses Sound? It Depends on Which Group Is Doing It

Well-Educated People often write complex sentences that have subtexts, subordinate clauses, asides, embellishments, and elaborations that demontrate your ability to manage the interweaving of several strands of complex thought at once, but it would be a mistake to assume that this kind of sentence structure translates successfully from writing to speaking because, as any audience member can tell you, hearing is a very different activity than reading, and requires time to assimilate one idea before you can absorb the next one.

Young People: Millenials, or people who were born after 1980, have been raised to communicate in a world of social media that has taught them to write their thoughts continuously without having to stop for air, so not surprisingly, many Millenials, or members Gen Y as they’re sometimes called, find it difficult to put a pause into the flow of their thoughts even when they’re speaking, and in fact rarely seem to use periods to punctuate what they’re saying until they run out of breath or things to say, whichever comes first.

The Rest of Us: The rest of us are also inclined to “under-pause,” but instead of missing a pause opportunity by running on for too long, we do it by inserting a sound like “uhm,” “ah,” or “y’know” into what would otherwise be silence.

Whether you’ve missed out on pausing because you’re writing phrases in your head, because you’re dashing from one thought to the next, or because you haven’t yet trained yourself to tolerate, let alone embrace silence when you speak, the good news is: These habits can be broken!

And learning to pause will unlock a whole new level of public speaking mastery. It just takes a small amount of effort, repeated often.

Here’s an exercise to get you started:

Try This Exercise To See How Pausing Can Be Practiced and Learned

Read what follows out loud. Slowly say “one hundred, two hundred” out loud between each phrase. This will help slow you down and give you a sense of the timing of a “pause.”


When you rest between thoughts, you’re giving yourself a nice break.

(slowly say:) One hundred, two hundred, three hundred.

You’re making the space to slow yourself down, relax, and check out how your audience is reacting to what you just said.

(slowly say:) One hundred, two hundred, three hundred.

That same pause also gives your audience time to take in what they just heard.

(slowly say:) One hundred, two hundred, three hundred.

This increases the chance that they’ll remember what you said.

(slowly say:) One hundred, two hundred, three hundred.

Pauses are invaluable to you and your audience.

(slowly say:) One hundred, two hundred, three hundred.

Practicing Pauses: A Big Gain for Very Little Pain

You get the picture.

This exercise takes just a few seconds. But if you do it often, the ability to pause will seep into your brain, and you’ll always have the choice of sounding more thoughtful, authoritative, interesting, colorful, and memorable.

So have fun practicing pauses.

The people that you speak to will thank you!

Image by Tim Gouw | Unsplash

Buy 100 Top Public Speaking Tips: The Book!

In 25 years of speaker coaching, I’ve helped my individual speaker coaching clients develop their strengths and skills to become authentic and effective communicators.

Along the way, I’ve developed tips for everything from small talk to speaking up in meetings, from managing fear to making an impact.

And now, I’ve shared it all in 100 Top Public Speaking Tips: The Book. This beautifully designed PDF booklet is searchable, clickable, and categorized, so that you can find what you need, instantly.

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