While there is value in taking the occasional pause when you’re speaking, I’m addressing here the power of the pause as part of the Q&A session. The Q&A session is a deceptively important part of your presentation. The audience instinctively believes that they’re going to find out what you really know. Their respect for you is usually won or lost during the Q&A. So handling questions with aplomb is crucial. I offer lots of suggestions and strategies as part of my training for handling Q&A with confidence. But the “consistent pause” is one of those “ah-hahs” that really makes an impact.
Part of the power of this strategy comes from the recognition that being a good speaker means you also must be a good listener. It’s important to remember that most questioners want to be heard. So listen carefully to their questions to make sure you understand—resist the temptation to interrupt them and answer the question. You may know the answer—you may be able to predict exactly where the question is going. But the questioner wants to feel like you’re listening.
There’s a guaranteed way to do this: Pause before you answer every question. Not a long, drawn out silence, but a couple of beats. If you force yourself to pause before you answer every question, it will ensure that you allow questioners the opportunity to say everything they want to say and feel like you’ve listened to them without interruption. If you do it consistently, it will also convey the impression that you’re thoughtfully considering your response before you answer.
Think about it. What is our natural instinct in responding to questions? Easy question—quick answer. So you’re moving along like that for a while—question/answer, question/answer… And all of a sudden you get a “tough question”—one you don’t know the answer to, or you don’t want to answer. What do you instinctively do? Pause, right? And in that lone pause, you’re telegraphing your discomfort to the audience. They will unconsciously be a little bit suspicious of the answer you finally give, because you had to think about it. But imagine the impact when you pause every single time. Question—pause—answer. That will give the impression that you’re thoughtfully considering your response to every question before your answer. And the beauty of this technique is that when you do get one of those tough questions that may have momentarily blindsided you, you’ve bought yourself the time to think and collect your thoughts without looking like you’ve been caught off guard. But remember, you must do it consistently.