Pausing is such an important technique for a speaker to learn to use effectively. When presenters we work with have trouble slowing down or pausing in their delivery, we sometimes talk about “free throws.” It’s a great way to help people learn how to take a break in their presentations.
Imagine the exhaustive energy of a basketball game, with ten players tearing up and down the court. You get the ball, go in for a shot, and get fouled by a defender. Now the action stops while you get to take two shots from the free throw line.
Those of our clients with hoops in their genes are well versed in the importance of developing a regular, consistent free throw routine. They’ve been coached that good free throw shooting involves slowing down from the frantic pace of the game, getting comfortable, and sticking to the pattern. Here’s the point: athletes preparing to shoot free throws learn to slow down and TAKE THEIR TIME, even while hundreds or thousands of fans, not to mention teammates and coaches, are waiting. They take a few dribbles, a deep breath, a deep knee bend, a spin of the ball—it only takes a few seconds to adjust and get in the zone.
Pausing is such an effective technique for a speaker—it helps the audience focus, reinforces a key message, and gives the presenter a moment to recharge. Yet many people we work with are uncomfortable with the seconds of empty space. We encourage them to develop their own pausing routine—perhaps a deep breath, a look at the audience, a look at their notes, a gesture—just like the great free throw shooters. It only takes a second, but when the game’s on the line, it makes all the difference.