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Pauses Part 1 – How to improve your speaking

Pauses Part 1 – How to improve your speaking

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Effectively using pauses in speech will make your ideas easier to understand.
 
If you do it right, your listener will not be aware of your pauses, but you will communicate your ideas more persuasively and clearly.
 
If you do it wrongly, your listener will find it hard to understand your opinion, and you may seem less believable and reliable.
 

Benefits of Pausing

In this blog post, Part 1, we are going to look at how pauses are used to:

1. Show punctuation 

  • Commas ( , )
  • Full stops ( . )
  • Paragraphs
  • How to use the punctuation techniques
In the second blog post, Part 2, we will look at how pauses are used to:
 

2. Show emotion (how you feel e.g. happy, sad, angry, etc.) 
3. Help your audience understand you (they need time to think). 
4. Improve your oral presentation pauses (let you breathe, have a moment to think, get a drink or change slides in a presentation). 
5. Final rules

1. Punctuation

Punctuation includes commas ( , ), full stops ( . ), question marks ( ? ), exclamation marks ( ! ) and changing paragraphs. When listening, your audience can’t see this punctuation, so you have to communicate it verbally. In English, we do this with pauses. Pauses allow you to punctuate your spoken words, giving your listeners clues as to when one phrase, one sentence, or one paragraph ends, and the next begins.
 
The Comma Pause ( , )

Use short pauses (about ¼ - ½ second) in your speech whenever a comma would be used in written language to separate two clauses.

  • I wanted to make my mother happy [pause] so I made her breakfast.  

Or to separate items of a list clearly.

  • For breakfast [pause] I made eggs [pause] bacon [pause] and pancakes.
The Sentence Pause ( . ? ! )
A sentence pause should generally be longer than a comma pause. Use medium pauses (about ½ - 1 second) wherever a full stop (or question mark, or exclamation mark) would be used in written language to separate two sentences. Try not to connect sentences with ‘and’ too many times, as this can make it harder for the listener. 
 
Can you work out which example sentence uses the: full stop ( . ), question mark ( ? ) or exclamation mark ( ! )?
 
a) I arrived in Melbourne three weeks ago [pause] I come from Russia [pause]
b) The weather in Melbourne is crazy [pause] There are four seasons in one day [pause]
c) Can I practise speaking in English with you [pause] I am studying English before starting my degree at RMIT [pause] 
 
The answer is: 
 
a) ( . )  – Idea 1 and then idea 2.
b) ( ! )  – Information the speaker feels strongly about and then extra explanation.
c) ( ? ) – Question and then extra information.

The Paragraph Pause
When reading, people usually add a mental pause at the end of each paragraph. When speaking, this is just as important. Use long pauses (about 1½ seconds) in your speech whenever you are changing from one key idea to the next.
 

You can separate two ‘key points’ from one another.

  • The second benefit of studying in Australia is … [pause]
  • The third benefit of studying in Australia is… [pause] 

You can also separate an example / story from the main point of the speech. This is done with paragraph size pauses before and after the example / story.

  • The second benefit of studying in Australia is … [pause] 
  • When I first arrived in Australia, I was … [pause] 
How to use the punctuation techniques
Not sure how to use all of these ideas? One technique is to add the word [pause] every time you need to pause. 
 
Today, [pause] I'm going to talk about a person [pause] who was a shy kid during his school days. [pause] A person who was very determined [pause] and was even ready to give up his life, [pause] saying "I would rather die [pause] instead of eating animals as food". [pause] A man who united a whole country. [pause] A true believer of non-violence. [pause] Friends, [pause] Yes. [pause] I'm going to talk about the Father of India, [pause] Mahatma Gandhi. [pause]
 
Another technique is to break your speech text into a list of short pieces, one per line. When practising, pause whenever the line ends.
 
Today, 
I'm going to talk about a person 
who was a shy kid during his school days. 
A person who was very determined 
and was even ready to give up his life 
saying "I would rather die 
instead of eating animals as food". 
A man who united a whole country. 
A true believer of non-violence. 
Friends, 
Yes 
I'm going to talk about the Father of India, 
Mahatma Gandhi.
 
Which technique is easier? It depends on the person. Try both techniques yourself. 
 
Researchers have found that when you read out loud, people only use short and medium pauses, but spontaneous speech (speaking without reading) shows a more frequent use of medium and long pauses. So, if you have to read a part of your speech, it is important to deliberately lengthen your pauses to copy a more natural spontaneous speech style. 
 
For more ideas about Pauses, read the full article by Andrew Dlugan (2012) called: Speech Pauses: 12 Techniques to Speak Volumes with Your Silence
 

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