- Examples of pausing and breathing in speaking
- What are the benefits of pausing and breathing in a speaking setting?
- What are strategies to pause and breathe?
- Common questions
Most beginner speakers don’t pause when they want to, they fall silent because they run out of words. As soon as they lose their train of thought – they freeze. Their mind blanks. They just finished explaining one point and the next point disappears from their mind. The sudden silence feels like a crash.
In such silence, it can feel like the audience’s eyes are on you, waiting for you to come up with something to say. In the beginner’s mind, the pause is linked to failing: you’re doing something wrong, and other people are seeing every moment of it.
At Ultraspeaking, we tell our students that all those things most speakers define as a failure – having a blank mind, rambling, or rushing – are a natural part of impromptu speaking. Great speakers know this, it happens to them all the time. They just know how to get out of it when it invariably happens.
The key to getting yourself out of this panic lies in the pause and the breath. It’s your antidote to overwhelm, your instrument to clarity, and your secret to coming across as confident. When you have control over the pause, you gain control over any moments of panic, fear, or overwhelm. These moments are reduced to just another normal part of speaking. It’s possible to lose your train of thought and not even flinch about it!
Examples of pausing and breathing in speaking
You may be wondering how pausing and breathing can help you in everyday conversations and scenarios. Take the following examples:
- Your supervisor asks you a difficult question on the report you just presented at work. Instead of speaking right away, you pause – you take a deep breath in, slowly let it out, and then start speaking. This gives you time to connect to what you want to say and makes you look thoughtful and unhurried.
- You’re in the middle of telling a story to a group of friends over dinner but forget a key detail. Instead of apologizing or jumping out of the story, you take a deep breath and pause for dramatic effect. In the silence, the detail arrives and you pick the story back up with even greater enthusiasm.
- You walk into a bar and want to strike up a conversation with someone, already preparing the phrasing and words before you even open your mouth. Instead, you can pause and breathe, then say hello. You remain in control, not your nerves.
- You’re asked to give an impromptu speech. Normally this would have stressed you out – you might reiterate several times you aren’t prepared and proceed to fumble your way through an awkward toast. But now, you can use those few moments for a brief silence to pause, breathe, and compose yourself. On the outside you look thoughtful and confident, on the inside you get more clarity and land on even more meaningful things to say.
- You’re instructing a group of employees on new company guidelines. Instead of speeding through the information, you take regular pauses after each point in order to emphasize it and to give space for people to process what you just said.
Pausing and breathing are fundamental behaviors of world-class communicators, and it’s something anyone can start implementing today.
What are the benefits of pausing and breathing in a speaking setting?
In speaking, there’s always turbulence – there’s never going to be a perfect environment free from distractions, unwanted noises, and nerves. It’s a complex process with a lot of unexpected variables.
In general, most beginner speakers under turbulence tend to panic and give into nerves and anxiety. Only flight attendants and pilots that are trained under turbulence follow a different protocol! This makes these trained experts grounded, calm, and conscious of what’s happening. That’s exactly what pausing and breathing will give you in speaking.
When you pause, you get more clarity when things go wrong. When you know moments like this are going to happen, you can leverage them instead of getting defeated by them.
What are strategies to relive moments?
1. Realize that blanking and pausing look identical on the outside
The only way your audience will realize you’re panicking and going blank is when you reveal it to them. But when you realize blanking is a natural part of speaking, you can use these moments to pause and breathe, never letting the audience know you’re totally forgotten your place! More importantly, these dramatic pauses signal to your audience that you deserve the space to think, and that your thoughts are intentional.
Ultimately you signal to yourself that you’re confident, and you give yourself space to be more creative and dynamic. At Ultraspeaking, we’ve seen that pausing and breathing are key to enabling your brain to function better. Your thinking gets sharper because you can take your time.
2. When the pressure goes up, slow down
When people drive to an unfamiliar intersection or confusing fork in the road, they often turn down the music. They remove distractions, pay attention, and slow down to figure out what to do next.
In speaking, most people tend to do the opposite. They turn up the music, press on the gas, and start to speed up, hoping the right words will magically come to them. But what usually happens is they just feel more lost and nervous and just keep rambling.
When you notice your speaking is getting out of control, turn down the music. Slow down, take a breath, give yourself some space.
3. Focus on the body experience of the breath
When you’re genuinely reliving a moment, and not merely describing what Speaking is a flow-oriented process, and the easiest way to break your flow is when you think about your flow. To speak well, you need to get out of your own way. You can do this by placing your attention in your body again through the pause and breathe exercise.
When you take a breath and focus on your physical body, you literally get out of your thinking brain and open the doors to access flow. The answer to “I’m too much in my head” is “be more in your body.” The breath is your way to get there.
4. Connect to what you say in the breath
Feeling connected with what you’re saying on a physiological and emotional level is often more important than getting the right ideas and having the right words.
Most people start to speak from the head. They’re very analytical. They don’t infuse their speaking with passion because they’re not truly connecting with what they’re saying. They’re not in a flow state and present with their body; they’re at a distance, trying to juggle plans, outlines, and points to make a speech go well.
The breath is the space to really absorb what you’re saying. You pause and you charge up with feeling. And then when you start speaking again, you have a totally new, refreshed form of energy about what you’re saying.
5. Speak to discover, pause to iterate
Unlike a piece of writing or recorded audio, speaking is a living thing. Answers evolve while you give them, because new inspiration strikes under pressure. In a sense, speaking is the process of thinking out loud. You’re just refining your thinking to a better version than how it sounded in your head.
However, when given a choice between discovering a new thought on the fly in front of a large audience, or preparing a speech beforehand, most people will prefer the second. But like most amatuer speakers, these people are afraid to let themselves feel the spontaneity and sudden inspiration a pause will give you.
When you know how to use the pause, your spontaneous speaking gets better, because your thinking gets clearer. (And as a bonus: you don’t have to prepare so much!)
5. Take a breath before you start
Ultraspeaking is about connecting with yourself and your speaking. Taking a breath helps you do that.
We want all our students to have the confidence to take a long pause and gather their thoughts before speaking. It will allow you to calm down, set your intention, and speak even better.
What if I pause and someone interrupts me?
If you signal your pause is intentional, people will be less likely to interrupt you. If you pause with confidence, people wait.
But speaking is a dynamic experience, and you can’t prepare for everything. The truth is, you may get interrupted during a pause. But that’s alright – it’s just another opportunity to remain calm and be a better speaker.
Great speaking is about adapting and adjusting on the fly, not forcing yourself and others to stick through a rigid, pre-planned script. Perhaps your audience already understood your point, and someone interrupted you because they’re more interested in your next point. Or perhaps they want to build on what you already said.
You’re contributing to the group dialogue, the general solution, not your solution. Instead of having a bunch of monologues, you enter a conversation, allowing everyone present to experience a richer, more vibrant experience.
Beginner speakers are often terrified of losing their words and looking foolish during a speech. They tend to rush through their presentation, rigidly focusing on their script and not forgetting their points.
But this prevents them from being present in the moment, and opening themselves up to dynamic spontaneity and being in a flow state. The truth is, getting lost during a speech, blanking, and rambling, are all normal occurrences every speaker has to go through in order to become a skilled speaker. It’s not about avoiding these moments, it’s about embracing them and using them to become better.
Being lost isn’t failing – it’s a moment to get new clarity again. Speaking is living communication. It evolves, it iterates, it improves while you deliver it. Pausing is your way to navigate the turbulence and to use it to your advantage.
In the end, pausing is just a habit of navigating these complexities. The simple rule of emergencies comes to play: don’t panic! Take a breath, pause, gather yourself. Then, keep moving forward.