When you speak, how often and how long should you pause? Best answer: “Try 1-2-3”

pause when presenting 1-2-3You might have heard public-speaking experts recommend pausing when you’re presenting. But how often – and for how long – should you pause during your talk?

The answers to those questions can seem surprisingly involved. So, I was delighted to find (over on Decker Communications’ blog) that Keith Bailey recently published a great post answering those exact questions – in a way that’s very:

  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Practical

He suggests you pause according to how your words would appear if written, so:

Whenever there’s a… Pause for…
Comma 1 second
New sentence 2 seconds
New paragraph 3 seconds

Here’s how Keith likens punctuation in text to pausing when speaking:

“Punctuation is to readers as pausing is to your listeners.”

He even shared a passage of over 100 words without any punctuation, to vividly show the written equivalent of speaking without pauses!

Keith’s 1-2-3 tip is a huge help
on both counts

Pausing’s a masterful speaking technique that gives your audience time to really “get” what you’re saying. Sadly though, nerves (and lack of true empathy for the audience) cause most speakers not to pause either often enough or long enough. So Keith’s 1-2-3 tip is a huge help on both counts.

Although this tip’s simple, I’m not saying it’s easy

Mind you, although this tip’s simple, I’m not saying it’s easy. By that I mean pausing seems straightforward, but it doesn’t tend to come naturally, so you’ll likely need to practise lots for it to become 2nd nature.

As you might’ve read before, videoing yourself practising your talk really helps. And in this case, it’ll let you see just how frequent and how long your pauses really are – right down to the nearest second (shown on the video’s timeline).

Let your audience “get” what you’re saying

So to slow your pace (which lets your audience “get” what you’re saying), try Keith Bailey’s simple “1-2-3” tip for pausing.


Over to you

  • What’s been your experience (either pausing yourself, or hearing effective speakers pause)?
  • I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.


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5 thoughts on “When you speak, how often and how long should you pause? Best answer: “Try 1-2-3”

  1. I have my Father of the Bride to deliver soon. Even though I am very happy with my speech, I am concerned that it will not sound as good as it looks on paper.
    I have been practicing, but now know the speech off by heart, which has made me rush through it quicker than when I was “reading” it.
    When I try to slow it down I tend to waffle and feel the need to change my written text to fill the gaps.
    I just worry that I do not have a charismatic voice, that will entertain the crowd.
    Any tips?


    • Thanks for your very thoughtful message John. Reading between the lines of your comment, I do have a few tips

      First, because your audience will only ever hear your speech (not read it), it’s best to record yourself practising and then watch or listen to the result. Aim to do that a few times, to help craft your talk and delivery.

      When you speak (in practice and on the day itself), keep pausing for a few seconds to relive each event you’re speaking about. Look at your daughter (or a photo during practice) and revisit the emotions you felt. That’ll help you to slow down, and to engage people.

      Because no one will know what you wrote, they won’t even realise if you stray a bit from it. And in fact, that’ll give a really natural delivery. So don’t be too concerned about straying. (This short video about speaking on a panel could give you a useful alternative to working from a script.)

      As for entertaining the crowd, a good way to do that’s to bring out the emotion in what you’re speaking about. (Ideally, if there’s some self-deprecating or harmless humour you can draw on, that goes down well. But if it’s not there, or you feel uncomfortable doing that, don’t force it.)

      Lastly, if there’s one or more people you trust and whose opinions you value, getting their feedback on a practice session can help. Just be sure to ask them for specifics, like which was their favourite bit of your speech and why, and which bit would they change and how. (If you like, I’d also be happy to give you some feedback at no charge.) Just remember: You can decide whether to take or leave any feedback.

      I wish you all the best with your speech. And if you feel like leaving a comment again afterwards, I’d love to hear how it goes!


  2. Pingback: The Speed of Spit | BC's Funniest Toastmaster for 2012 - 2013

  3. Hi Craig, thanks for such a great post! I agree, most people (likely due to lack of nerves) may think they are pausing but in reality they are not pausing as long as they think they are.

    Back in high school I took part in a school play (where my parents came with the video camera.) Watching the video later, I learned two things: 1) My dad should never quit his day job to become a camera man, and 2) I thought my lines had long enough pauses, but in reality it ran on like one giant quickly rambling sentence. I was talking way faster than I thought I was, and didn’t pause.

    Since then I’ve painfully trained myself to incorporate longer pauses. I wish someone told me the “1…2…3…” rule. In the beginning I was telling myself to pause long enough until it just started to feel uncomfortable, (only then was it a long enough pause).

    A great effective pause will increase the power behind the speech ten-fold. I’ve seen great speakers use it to have the audience on the edge of their seats and the whole place so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It made their words and their message really stick.


    • Thanks for your comment, Vivien – I enjoy and value hearing your thoughts.

      Funny line about your dad! I can imagine how the footage might have looked, as most home videos are about the same quality as most presentations – or worse!

      About not pausing long enough, I had a similar experience recently at Toastmasters. I video my speeches, so I saw for myself afterwards that the pauses I used were too short to be effective.

      To practise pausing longer, for a while I think I’ll start counting in my head (“1000, 2000, 3000”) to make a 3-second pause between points. And again the video evidence will let me know which pauses are the right sort of length!

      You paint a vivid picture of effective speeches. Thanks again for joining in.


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