What Mark Twain and Benjamin Netanyahu can Learn you ‘bout the…… Pause! (Presentation Skills)

Adding humor to your speech - pondering on it

Written by Conor Cunneen

Published October 2, 2015

Somewhere up in the clouds, Mark Twain must have been applauding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speech at the UN yesterday where after slamming his audience for their “deafening silence” in the face of Iran’s aggression, the visiting dignitary paused…………… for 44 seconds!

It was a magnificent and hugely effective piece of theater (I do not mean to belittle his message at all in saying this). Had the Prime Minister not paused, very few of the news outlets would be commenting on the “deafening silence” and very few non-Jewish would even be aware of his speech. All because………. he paused…….

“That Impressive Silence” for Presentation Skills

In his autobiography, Twain wrote of “That impressive silence, that eloquent silence, that geometrically progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where no combination of words howsoever felicitous could accomplish it.”

What do dogs and cats have four of?

Here’s a question for you? What do dogs and cats have four of? You’re saying, “That’s easy, Conor. The answer of course is – Paws.”

Very good and I would bet that most of your speeches don’t even have one!!! If not, you are missing a vital communication trick.

If I was forced to pick one onstage technique to improve the average speaker, it would probably be the deliberate introduction of the planned pause at appropriate moments.

When scripting your speech, indicate when and where you will pause. Great speakers do not leave the pause to chance. While drafting his speeches, especially on the redraft, Winston Churchill inserted blank spaces to remind him where he should pause. One of the greatest orators of the 20th century planned the pause. Shouldn’t you?

The message is: Silence can be golden.

When you pause, you give your audience time to fully comprehend the message.

When you pause, you give your audience time to absorb and reflect on emotional and powerful content.

When you pause, it has an important psychological effect on the listener by breaking the pattern they have become used to. It also suggests you are in control.

Learn from the masters. Twain, Churchill, Netanyahu. Shut up and communicate better!

“You must know exactly how long to hold your audience before coming to the point of the joke. After some experience I could tell how long the pause should be to the moment. The length of such a pause differs from time to time and with different audiences.”  Mark Twain interview with NY Times, 1907


Among other things, Conor Cunneen – IrishmanSpeaks is author What Mark Twain Learned Me ’bout Public Speakin’!

An Irishman based in Chicago writing about a dead man from Florida, Missouri should surely give you cause for pause!



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