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A Key Element in Public Speaking: Timing Pauses

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.


Timing is essential when speaking in public. The cliché: It is not what you say but more on how you say it, applies so much to public speaking. 

Where you put your pauses during your presentation is one of the essential aspects of keeping an audience that is free from drowsing off. Couple this with humor, and you are doing well.

Timing is the element involved during reactions that are spontaneous, especially on developments during your delivery that are unexpectedly expected.

Do not forget, though, that when you expect any laughter to burst any time soon, avoid speaking with your voice, and whatever it is that you are saying will most probably be drowned out by the audience’s noise. 

Make sure to remember that laughter is extremely difficult to get and so very much easy to discourage. Try as much as possible to keep eye contact with the audience for a bit of time longer when you deliver that punch line. 

The audience size could also affect the way you use your timing. When the audience is small, your presentation will deliver in less time than if you have a large audience. The reaction of a large audience will get to be a little longer and not as quick as if the audience is small. It would help if you also waited until the ripple effect of your punch line gets to that audience in the back row. 

Unbelievably, putting that much-needed silence in your presentation is one of the hallmarks of a skilled and suitable presenter. No public speaker should chatter away in the hopes of keeping an audience glued to anything it is you have to say. Ironically, this is one effective way to keep their focus off you. The use of silence adds that much-needed polish to your presentation, making you appear like a confident expert.

Short pauses are practical to use for you to separate your thoughts. These pauses last from half a second to two. You do not have to count, however. Keep in mind to slow down. This gives the audience a chance to absorb all of what it is you are getting across. It also helps if you change the inflection in your voice at the end of a thought, as this could signal to the audience that another idea is coming their way. Pauses are also an effective means if you want to highlight something. Put it before any word or thought you want the audience to focus on. They will most definitely get that.


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