Often, the most effective thing you can do—whether speaking to 1 person or 1,000—is to STOP speaking.

At last week’s Democratic debate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was about to make his opening statement, when he paused for an astounding 7 seconds.

The prior candidate had just made a zany proposal, and Mayor Pete decided to react nonverbally (mostly through eye movement and facial expression).

Finally, after 7 seconds, Mayor Pete said, “It’s original, I’ll give you that.” Then he introduced himself.

Any pause, when you’re standing in front of an audience, will feel like eternity. But only to you, the speaker.

Your audience, on the other hand, will appreciate the break. They’re reeling from 24/7 info overload. A pause is restful—often suspenseful. 

True, 7 seconds is long, but 3-5 seconds is just fine. Still, you’re likely to cut your pauses short unless you silently count the beats (“one-one thousand, two-one thousand . . .”)

Pausing marks you as a calm, confident professional. And not just when giving a presentation, but for other communication challenges too.

Consider pausing:

1) When being introduced to someone. Stop. Focus on their name. Notice their business card. Notice their face. Suppose, later, you had to pick them out of a police line-up – could you do it?

2) When negotiating. Suppose you’re offered a job at $100zillion. You counter with $120 zillion, and give a brief rationale. 

Then, stop talking.

3) When you get emotionally triggered. Suppose your manager tells you about a promotion: “Sorry, you didn’t get it, we chose Harriet.” 

Harriet??? Count to 10. Still triggered? Count to 10 thousand. Pause before you say something unfortunate.

4) After you ask a question. Common mistake: rushing in with a dozen more questions before anyone’s answered the first. 

“How come I didn’t get the promotion?” you ask your boss. “Is it because of my leadership ability? My collaboration skills? Do you dislike my hair?”

5) Before sending an email, especially an angry one: “Re Harriet’s promotion: I’m repulsed and deeply nauseous.” 

Pause. Is “deeply” the right word? Did you spell check? Do you really need to “reply all?”  

6) Before answering a phone call. Who’s calling? Oh no, it’s Harriet! Pause. Smile. Then answer the call. 

7) When there’s nothing else to say.


1) SIGN UP TODAY: DYNAMIC SPEAKING/BOSTON  Oct. 28-29. Limited to 7 people, 2 spots left.

2) CHECK OUT: YOU’VE GOT 8 SECONDS, the #1 Amazon Best Seller in business communication, Kindle edition (as of 5/22/19). Also available in print and audio.

© Copyright 2019 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

Click here to get these fast tips.

PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful. For more info: please call 508-879-0934, or email paul@expresspotential.com