Whenever I use the term “Pregnant Pause” among people who don’t speak for a living, it always raises eyebrows. It’s an odd term, but it essentially means an elongated pause (usually ten seconds or longer) used during a speech. Pregnant pauses aren’t always bad either; they can enhance a speech when used correctly. So let’s take a closer look at the pregnant pause.
A replacement for “ums” and “ahs”:
One of the things I do in my public speaking classes is ask my students to set some speaking goals. I find that many of them try to move away from filler words such as um, ah, so, you know, etc…. I recommend that they pause instead as it’s a cleaner alternative. When people say “um” every five seconds it becomes a distraction. If someone were to pause instead, it would be less of a distraction.
Keep in mind that in public speaking, there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing. So don’t go overboard with your pauses.
A cover up:
This is public speaking’s equivalent of the “uncomfortable silence” that occasionally pops up in casual conversation. You may have said or done something embarrassing, you forgot your place or the audience didn’t react the way you expected them to. Whatever the case, pregnant pauses are a way to gather your thoughts.
The trick here is to not let the pause get to be too long. A couple seconds is okay, but ten seconds of silence during a speech can seem like an eternity — for both you and your audience. You should never let a pause last more than six seconds unless you are purposely pausing for effect — perhaps it’s part of a demonstration or you’re using the long pause for humor. Otherwise, you’ll lose your audience.
The “Ponder Pause:”
This is an effective use of the pause to get your audience to think about something for a moment: You’ve made a profound statement and the audience needs a little bit of time to let what you’ve said sink in.
Again, you have to be careful not to elongate your pause too long. In some situations, primarily when you’re making a serious or shocking point, you might feel that a longer pause is necessary. A great way to handle this is to use multiple pauses but put some words between them. Perhaps you could pause for a few seconds, say “think about it for a moment” and then pause again.
Pauses are a great way to enhance a speech but just be careful as to how you use them. Pauses that are too long or too frequent can quickly become a distraction and take away from your speech.