Speech Pauses

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109

pause3Concept description

Andrew Dlugan describes effective use of speech pauses as a master technique – if you do it right, nobody is conscious of your pauses, but your ideas are communicated more persuasively but if you do it wrong, your credibility is weakened, and your audience struggles to comprehend your message.

In his article, Speech Pauses: 12 Techniques to Speak Volumes with Your Silence (reference below), Andrew Dlugan notes the benefits of using pauses effectively:

  • Pauses help your audience understand you, allowing you to punctuate your words.
  • Pauses help convey emotion, provided they are used authentically.
  • Pauses control the overall pace of your delivery, slowing where necessary to match the audience’s listening capacity.
  • Pauses are healthy, enabling you to take deep breaths.
  • Pauses help engage your audience, giving audiences time to reflect on your words and connecting with their own experiences in real time.
  • Pauses replace filler words (see Eliminating Filler Words).
  • Pauses let your mind catch up with your mouth, allowing the internal “thinking what to say” task to catch up with the external “delivering the words” task.
Pause techniques

Dlugan describes 12 pause techniques:

  1. The clause pause (or the comma cause). Use short pauses in your speech whenever a comma would be used in written language to separate two clauses, or to separate items of a list clearly.
  2. The sentence pause. Use medium pauses in your speech wherever a period (or question mark, or exclamation mark) would be used in written language to separate two sentences.
  3. The paragraph pause. Use longer pauses in your speech whenever you are transitioning from one idea to the next, in the same way as paragraphs are used in written language.
  4. The emphasis pause. When you want to emphasize a key word (or phrase), try pausing immediately before and immediately after the key word (or phrase) – usually in tandem with variations in pitch, volume, or intonation.
  5. The rhetorical question pause. After you ask your audience a rhetorical question, pause for a little while, stimulating your audience to engage, to think internally about their answer to your question.
  6. The new visual pause. When speaking with slide visuals, it’s generally good to pause when switching to a new slide to give your audience a moment to study the visual in silence.
  7. The “I’m in thought” pause. When you need time for your mind to catch up with your mouth, rather than filling the space with a filler word, it is much better to just pause until you’ve gathered yourself.
  8. The dramatic pause. Part rhetorical and part theatrical, a dramatic pause is used whenever you want to generate some drama or suspense.
  9. The punchline pause. Pause immediately before your punch line to create heightened anticipation and pause immediately after your punch line to allow your audience to release their laughter.
  10. The power pause. You can start your presentation with a deliberate pause, which can gain the attention of the audience and give you a few seconds to take a deep breath and centre yourself.
  11. The get-a-drink pause. The best time to grab a drink is when you are already in a longer pause, such as when you are transitioning to a new section of material, or when you’ve just put up a slide visual for your audience to study.
  12. The check-your-notes pause. Occasionally, you can use the get-a-drink pause to conceal that you need a moment to think and recover.


Dlugan says that there are no strict rules on precisely how long your pauses should be. Appropriate lengths for pauses (from a fraction of second to several seconds or more) will vary considerably based on your speaking style, the nature of your message, the duration of your talk, your audience, and cultural norms. However, they should be used consistently so that, for example, comma pauses (however long they are) should be shorter than paragraph pauses.


Jeremy Epperson (sp?), 2012, Get Better At Public Speaking, Mastering the Pause to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills, 5-minute YouTube presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l1Tom9q8Ic, accessed 1 February 2016.

Tracy Goodwin, 2014, Using Pauses in Presentations (on the dangers of over-using pauses), 5-minute YouTube presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Yf_nSlnfN8, accessed 1 February 2016.

Outspoken.co, How to Effectively Use Pauses During Your Public Speech, at http://outspoken.co/use-pauses-during-your-public-speech/, accessed 1 February 2016.

Write-Out-Loud.com, Effective tips for using pauses in speeches, at http://www.write-out-loud.com/quick-and-easy-effective-tips-for-using-pauses.html, accessed 1 February 2016.


Andrew Dlugan, 2012, Speech Pauses: 12 Techniques to Speak Volumes with Your Silence, at http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/pause-speech/, accessed 1 February 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Speaking to Persuade and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 1 February 2016.

Image: TheologyGaming.com, at http://theologygaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Pause.png, accessed 1 February 2016.