When the Pause Goes into Labor!

Posted on Posted in Public Speaking

Recently I was interviewed on a blog radio program and the host paused so long after every comment I made that I wondered how many listeners she really had. Yes, the internet station of which she is a member has an excellent listenership, but I seriously question whether this particular woman has any real following.

What is interesting is that she knows she has long, pregnant pauses which she thinks makes her program clearer. I disagree. I have found that those who pause for great lengths of time often have difficulty gathering their thoughts quickly. The problem is that most listeners do not have difficulty listening quickly.

Please understand that I am not talking about an individual who talks too fast. When this occurs, it is a good idea to give a little extra to the pause; however, waiting 5 or 6 seconds to respond to someone’s comments is not productive.

As one who understood my topic, she should have been moving immediately to the next point or to the next question. Instead, there was silence. Long periods of silence. In fact, her pauses were so long that listeners might have thought they had lost their connection!

Normal speeds in speaking range anywhere from 140 words to 180 words per minute. And, the majority of people are able to listen quite comfortably to someone speaking within those limits. A normal pause, however, lasts about a second. It is extremely brief. Our ears are trained to listen to these brief pauses but we are not willing to wait 5 or 6 seconds for a conversation to resume. Once, maybe, if the host has lost his/her script, for example. But not every single time a comment has ended.

I love the pause. It is effective and one of most important things you should do in speaking, whether you are standing at a lectern, sitting at a conference table, or just having a conversation with your friends, family, or colleagues. It also has many benefits, allowing you to take a supplemental breath, to regroup, to organize your thoughts, and/or to transition to a new topic or sub-topic. Your audience needs the pause as well, allowing them to categorize their own thoughts.

What you don’t want, however, is to pause too often or for too long. There is no doubt that a pregnant pause is effective once in a while. Just don’t let it go into labor!


The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels offers private, corporate and group workshops in voice and presentation skills as well as Voicing It!, the only complete video training program on voice improvement. To get started improving your presentation skills, click Voice Training and Presentation Skills for Nancy’s free ebook.