The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
PAUSE AND POWER
The true business of the literary artist is to plait or weave his meaning, involving it around itself; so that each
sentence, by successive phrases, shall first come into a kind of knot, and then, after a moment of suspended
meaning, solve and clear itself.
--GEORGE SAINTSBURY, on English Prose Style, in Miscellaneous Essays.
... pause ... has a distinctive value, expressed in silence; in other words, while the voice is waiting, the music
of the movement is going on ... To manage it, with its delicacies and compensations, requires that same
fineness of ear on which we must depend for all faultless prose rhythm. When there is no compensation, when
the pause is inadvertent ... there is a sense of jolting and lack, as if some pin or fastening had fallen out.
--JOHN FRANKLIN GENUNG, The Working Principles of Rhetoric.
Pause, in public speech, is not mere silence--it is silence made designedly eloquent.
When a man says: "I-uh-it is with profound-ah-pleasure that-er-I have been permitted to speak to you tonight
and-uh-uh-I should say-er"--that is not pausing; that is stumbling. It is conceivable that a speaker may be
effective in spite of stumbling--but never because of it.
On the other hand, one of the most important means of developing power in public speaking is to pause either
before or after, or both before and after, an important word or phrase. No one who would be a forceful speaker
can afford to neglect this principle--one of the most significant that has ever been inferred from listening to
great orators. Study this potential device until you have absorbed and assimilated it.
It would seem that this principle of rhetorical pause ought to be easily grasped and applied, but a long
experience in training both college men and maturer speakers has demonstrated that the device is no more
readily understood by the average man when it is first explained to him than if it were spoken in Hindoostani.
Perhaps this is because we do not eagerly devour the fruit of experience when it is impressively set before us
on the platter of authority; we like to pluck fruit for ourselves--it not only tastes better, but we never forget
that tree! Fortunately, this is no difficult task, in this instance, for the trees stand thick all about us.
One man is pleading the cause of another:
"This man, my friends, has made this wonderful sacrifice--for you and me."
Did not the pause surprisingly enhance the power of this statement? See how he gathered up reserve force and
impressiveness to deliver the words "for you and me." Repeat this passage without making a pause. Did it lose
Naturally enough, during a premeditated pause of this kind the mind of the speaker is concentrated on the
thought to which he is about to give expression. He will not dare to allow his thoughts to wander for an
instant--he will rather supremely center his thought and his emotion upon the sacrifice whose service,
sweetness and divinity he is enforcing by his appeal.
Concentration, then, is the big word here--no pause without it can perfectly hit the mark.
Efficient pausing accomplishes one or all of four results: