Manner of Speaking

The pause that refreshes

Today’s post is inspired by a 1929 ad from Coca-Cola.  In that year, the company came up with a truly great slogan that you still sometimes hear today: “The pause that refreshes.”

As speakers, we can learn a lot from that slogan.  Knowing when and how to pause is a great skill, and one that will greatly enhance our effectiveness.

Too many people speak too quickly.  This shortcoming is understandable.  The adrenalin is flowing and our pulse quickens.  We know the material so well, that in our enthusiasm to convey our message, we forget that our words – which we have spent hours honing and crafting – are being heard for the first time by our audience.

Pausing serves us well in many ways:

1.  It allows our audiences to absorb what we are saying.

2.  It helps rid us of the bad habit of feeling compelled to fill the silence with awkward “ahs” and “ums”.

3.  It can be used to signal that something important is about to come, and thus focus our audience’s attention.

4.  It can be used to signal that something important has just been said, and that we want our audience to think about it.

5.  It makes us look thoughtful, confident and credible.

Pauses need only last a second or two, but the effect can be profound.  Some examples might be helpful.

First, Winston Churchill.  Listen to his famous “Their Finest Hour” speech, but focus particularly on the final part (1:15 to 1:38).  Remember the context in which it was given.  The year was 1940, Germany had swept through Western Europe and England now stood alone.  Listen to the words, but hear the power and drama in the pauses.

Second, Barack Obama.  Below is his election victory speech on 4 November 2008 in Chicago.  You need not listen to the entire 17 minutes, though it would be well worth your time.  The first two or three minutes will suffice to show the dexterity with which Obama uses pauses for dramatic effect.

It has been said that music is what happens between the notes.  Arthur Schnabel, a classical pianist from Austria, put it this way: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists.  But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides!”

It is the same with public speaking.  Great speeches take place between the words.  During the pauses, the significance of what we have heard sinks in; during the pauses, the speech takes on special meaning for us.  And that is very refreshing.