Effective Use of Silent Pauses in Public Speaking by David Kow and Alfred Pua

This article addresses two main points pertaining to the use of silent pauses in public speaking. These are:

Firstly, the Importance of Silent Pauses; and secondly, When to Use Silent Pauses.

Importance of Silent Pauses

To ensure our speeches are effective, and that we come across as confident speakers, we need to project our voice and speak

clearly.  We should speak at a reasonable pace that is not too fast for the audience to absorb our message, but at the same time, not too slowly as to bore our audience, and cause them to do a mental exit.  More importantly, we need to vary our pace, and pause often during our speeches.  There are many advantages of silent pauses in speeches.  Silent pauses: –




  1. Give us time to recollect our thoughts,



  2. Make us appear more confident and in control, and



  3. Allow our audience time to keep up with, and process our message.





When to Use Silent Pauses


The occasions when silent pauses are useful, or even essential, are: -:




  1. Just Before We Begin Our Speech


    When we are called upon to give our speech, we should walk up to the lectern confidently, arrange our notes, look up at the audience, and pause for a moment before speaking the first words.  We have all seen speakers uttering their first words while looking down and arranging their notes.  This does not come across very well to the audience, nor project an image of a confident speaker.

  2. When Moving from One Main Point of Our Speech to Another


    When we move from one main point of our speech to another, we should pause to signal to our audience that we are moving to a new point.  This enhances the clarity of our speech structure and avoids possible confusion on the part of the audience. Here, a pause serves the same purpose as a new paragraph in written articles.



  3. When We Want to Provide Emphasis To a Specific Point


    Pausing after we have made an important point in our speech helps to provide emphasis to the point that we have just made.  It forces the audience to reflect on the importance of the point, instead of rushing to catch up with our speech if we had continued on.   As an illustration,


    “But, Ladies & Gentlemen, in today’s increasingly competitive economic environment, do you realize that one in every three of us in this room can expect to be retrenched within the next 5 years! … …


    Here, a pause after a startling statement has been made will add emphasis to the point, and allow the audience some time to reflect on the statement, and actually feel the significance of it.

  4. When Posing the Audience a Series of Rhetorical Questions  

    If we ask the audience a series of rhetorical questions during our speech, our intention must be for the audience to answer these questions internally to themselves to lead them to the point that we want to emphasize in our speech.  It is therefore important that when we posed the audience a series of rhetorical questions, we should pause after each question to allow the audience some time to reflect on the questions.  Not doing so will leave the audience frustrated or confused, and defeat the purpose of asking these rhetorical questions.  This mistake is common among some speakers who went on to ask a series of rhetorical questions in their speeches without pauses.  As an illustration,

    “What is most important to you in life? … … Suppose you were told by your doctor tomorrow that you have only three more months to live, is that project that you have been working on till late nights everyday for the past few months, while neglecting your family, still important to you? … … So, Ladies & Gentlemen, the next time your rush around, stop to ask yourself “What Am I Rushing For?” ……”

    Here, the silence pause after each question will allow the audience some time to reflect on the questions asked, and lead them to the main message in your speech, which in this instance, is about being clear on our goals in life.



Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of silent pauses, and when to use silent pauses, practice using them in your future speeches.  Make it a habit to speak slowly, and pause in silence frequently as you speak.




  • Pause to Gather your Thoughts


  • Pause to Allow your Audience Time to Digest your Message


  • Pause for Transition between the Main Points in your Speech
  • Pause for Emphasis on your Critical Points


  • Pause to Allow the Audience to Reflect on your Rhetorical Questions, and finally,



  • Pause to Add to your Overall Effectiveness as a Speaker








Note: Reworded from a Speech of the Same Title by Alfred Pua, ATM-B





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