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Punctuate Your Public Speaking by Pausing

One of the common exhortations of speaking coaches is to €put a period at the end of each sentence.€ This is more easily said than done, but it is accomplished by briefly pausing at the end of each sentence.

Indeed, the pause serves as various punctuation marks, based on the duration of the pause. A very brief pause has the effect of a comma, breaking a sentence into its parts or clauses. A longer pause has the effect of a period, bringing a brief stop to the statement and making it distinct from the ensuing statement. A long pause, depending on the context, acts as an exclamation point.

We make each of our phrases and sentences more distinct by punctuating them with pauses, and audience members more readily absorb what we have to say. That is because each thought is discreet, separated by the pauses.

Punctuating our presentations with consistent pausing is difficult, especially if we're not experienced public speakers. Those not accustomed to being the center of attention often suffer from stage fright. When we feel nervous in front of an audience we tend to speak quickly and dispense with pausing. All our words get smushed together and come out like one long word, one continuous thought, like so...


We must refrain from doing that or risk losing our audience in a barrage of words and confusion. Pausing and slowing our pace allows us to breathe and calm ourselves. It also gives us time to think. It gives the audience time to absorb our comments. These are all positive outcomes of exercising the discipline required to consistently pause while we're speaking.

To shed a bit more light on this topic, consider the difference between the written and spoken word. When we read, we read at our own pace, we can modulate the flow of information. With the spoken word, though, we are at the mercy of the speaker, we're subject to the speaker's tempo and style. Unlike the written word, there is no changing the pace, no going back to re-read, no opportunity to re-listen to the speaker's comments.

As presenters, it's important that we're cognizant of this and speak accordingly, speak in a manner that optimizes audience members' opportunity to absorb our statements. When we punctuate our spoken words, our statements become clarified. The audience absorbs and remembers a higher percentage of the information we impart. Audience members are more relaxed and energized because we don't make them expend a great deal of energy tracking and comprehending our presentation. They don't get so exhausted by the effort involved in trying to keep pace and decode what we're saying. We come across as more poised, understandable and influential. That is because we are poised and understandable. That makes us more influential.

If you've ever listened to a speaker with a heavy accent, you know how frustrating it is to try to decipher what is being said on the fly. It's a struggle, and it requires a lot of energy. Though we might not have an accent we can still frustrate audiences by making them mentally sprint to catch up while we're speaking too quickly and without proper punctuation. The words and concepts fly past too rapidly to decode.

There goes the impact of what we have to say - unless, of course, we punctuate our spoken words with appropriate pauses.

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