Embrace the pause

“No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause”   – Mark Twain

I couldn’t agree more!

Pausing is one of the most overlooked delivery techniques. By dividing speech into smaller segments, pausing significantly contributes to being better understood. For foreign English speakers, the use of effective pausing can make the difference between being understood or not being understood.

Effective use of pausing gives your listeners time to process and reflect on your words. And because your listeners do not have the benefit of punctuation, bolding and other helpful clues abundant in written formats, pauses are the ideal tool to support others’ understanding of your verbal message.

Effective Pausing: 

  • Pausing for emphasis.  Pausing, before or after certain words, naturally conveys them as having a higher importance. A pause proceeding a key word signals “listen up”. While a pause after a key word signals “remember this”
    • Avocados are poisonous [pause] to birds.
    • Please pick up AA batteries [pause] orange juice [pause] and eggs.
  • Pausing in your name. Your name may likely be unfamiliar to a new listener. Pausing between your first and last name makes it clear where your first name ends and your last name begins. It also helps others remember your name, which is important during interviews and networking. I personally know the value of pausing between a first and last name because my last name is no walk in the park!
  • Thought chunking. When you insert your pauses between ideas and thoughts, it allows your listener to recognize different thoughts and process them separately. Pausing in this way gives your listener time to process one idea before you move on to the next.
  • Pausing for punctuation. Periods and commas naturally break up ideas in writing. Use a short pause in your speech whenever a comma would be used in the written equivalent. Insert a medium pause in your speech whenever a period would be used in the written equivalent.


Pausing allows your listeners to absorb your words, connect your words to their own experiences and form images in their minds. It allows your words to land.


Pausing is strategically used by stand-up comedians. They typically pause after the delivery of a punch line. Were they to rush into their next joke, with no pause for the audience, the joke would fail to land and trigger laughter.

Sometimes, foreign English speakers are asked to slow down by their listener. Without training from a professional on how to slow down, they may insert a small pause after each word.  The result is an unnatural speaking rhythm which can negatively effect the listener’s ability to understand the message.  

Rhythm is the perceived patterns of stressed and unstressed units of speech. In English, there is a natural integration of speaking rhythm and meaning. Rhythm goes a long way in making your message clear.

Filler words, such as “um” and “ah”, are distracting and have to be filtered out by your listeners. If you are speaking English with a foreign accent, your listeners are already devoting extra listening energy to follow your message. The additional distraction associated with filler words may be the tipping point to your listeners struggling.

Filler words have the opposite effect of pauses. With continued voicing, it becomes unclear where words end and others begin. If you notice that you have a tendency to add in filler words, try inserting a pause instead, replacing the filler words with silence.Pauses will let you catch your breath, while giving your listeners the time they need to process your message.

Rightly timed pauses will boost your effectiveness as a speaker and convey a clearer message to your listeners… every time.

Accent Reduction Part II: Why I talk about Coconuts in Accent Reduction Training 

For non-native English speakers, it can be extremely difficult to reduce their accents on their own using accent reduction tools. The main reason for this is that it’s hard to hear the difference between the sound they are trying to make and the sound they actually make.

Before you can practice English sounds and speech patterns, you must be able to hear them.

Accent reduction training therefore begins with a focus on your listening skills.

Years ago, when my daughter was only 3 years old, we hosted a hockey playoff party. I don’t consider myself a big hockey fan, but I watch the playoffs. And that’s when it happened.

As we were all cheering “Go Canucks”, my daughter threw her little fist up in the air and cheered with us. Listening more closely I realized she was shouting “Coconuts”!

It made perfect sense, the expression was unfamiliar, and so she hadn’t heard it correctly. What she heard was influenced by her limited experience with the English language, combined with the instinct to make sense of what we said.

Once she was familiar with the name of the team, the cheer and the correct sequence of sounds, she was able to say it correctly.

I share this story with my accent reduction students to make a point. If you hear the word or the sounds incorrectly, you will say it incorrectly. 

When it comes to listening to English, second language learners face a unique challenge. They hear English through the filter of their own language.  The result being, what they hear is influenced by their own experiences, much like my daughter.

In Japanese for example, there are only open syllables (all words end in vowel sounds). Japanese speakers accustomed to and anticipating open syllables may not hear the word-final consonants of English words and are unlikely to produce them.

Identifying the differences between the sounds and word structures of a person’s native language and English is the starting point for successful accent reduction training.

A  three year old may get away with shouting “coconuts” at a Canucks game. But, in the business world employers, colleagues and clients desire accuracy and clarity in their communications. And it all starts with focused listening.

Learn more about my online 60-Day Accent Reduction Training Course here.