The Power of the Pause
It's a typical Sunday night in a Bronx burger joint, and the room is buzzing. Hassled-looking servers fly between tables and a bar full patrons, young and old, in for a burger or a beer or to watch the game on one of the glowing tv screens. To this typical chaos is added one more layer-a band of jazz musicians playing in the corner, and a collection of more "cats" waiting for the Sunday night jam session that always follows.
I found myself nervously clutching a microphone amidst this frenetic energy as I sat in on a song--Honeysuckle Rose--singing with musicians I'd never met before, let alone rehearsed with. I knew the tune well and even had a cool solo I'd practiced, but as we reached the end, I stumbled to close the song and rushed through a slightly confused ending. Understandable, with my nerves, but not a satisfying close to the song. A bit like tripping on the finish line.
Later that night, an equally-unrehearsed singer got up to sing "Summertime." She manages the restaurant and was one of those harassed servers flying around the bar prior to the song. But as SHE went to finish her song, she stopped, waited a breath, and the whole bar waited with her. And as she continued with the final note of her finale, the band was perfectly in-sync with her. These are pros, after all, and they know how to watch...and to wait. The payoff was glorious.
This is the power of the pause.
Fast-forward two days later, and I was able to put this epiphany into practice during a day-long communication workshop with Own the Room. The communication experts on staff broke down for our class just how valuable a tool pausing can be. In fact, they said, you don't even have to worry about slowing down your speech. Just make sure you give the audience enough pauses to take in what you're going to say. Talk fast? Ok, pause more.
If it's so easy, why don't we all pause more? Why is this a lesson I am doomed to learn over and over again?
Because pausing feels SO DIFFERENTLY in your body than it does to the rest of the room.
When that singer paused during her song, it seemed like a natural hold to the listeners, but to her, it may have felt like an eternity. That fear of an eternity of silence is exactly why I, and so many like me, don't pause when we can.
Throughout my workshop, I had to practice pausing...a lot. And I also helped my peers practice. 100% of the time, the feedback we all got was that we could afford to pause longer than we did. It feels foreign if you're not used to it, but with someone giving you feedback, you can start to calibrate your internal sense of time with how it feels on the outside.
The same is true for other pauses. Taking a moment between meetings to breathe and feel refreshed, or taking 5 minutes to step away from your kids and recharge, or taking that 2-week vacation you've never had the time for--these are all pauses that feel much, much longer to the taker than to the receiver of that pause.
Practice pausing and see how much your body wants to avoid the stillness and the silence. Like any exercise, the practice of pausing will make you more comfortable with it. Here are three ways to do that:
When you're tempted to say filler words such as "umm," "you know," or "like," let silence take their place.
When you've made a point, or are about to make an important point, take a breath and count to three in your mind before saying anything else.
When you're driving and you reach a stop sign, actually come to a complete stop. See how it feels in your body.
After all, it's Summertime now...
the payoff will be glorious.