In our business presentation workshops, we sometimes do an exercise in which we stretch the length of a pause—way beyond what would ever be comfortable or necessary—in order to show our learners how pausing helps eliminate a variety of presentation habits they want to avoid. We also teach people that in a presentation or meeting setting, after they’ve been asked a question, they should pause to think about the best answer, taking into account the whole presentation, the entire audience’s need, and the level of detail the question requires in the present circumstances.
Later, in the coaching room, when I’m one-on-one with our learners, I often hear, “But if I pause too long, I feel like I’m wasting my audience’s time.” My reply to that is this: You owe your audience the highest quality response you can give, and if that means taking a couple of seconds to ponder what that should be, your audience gets it. If you watch presentations or talks given by powerful people, there’s often a lot of silence. Some of this may be for dramatic effect, sure, but some is definitely the speaker taking time to formulate their next thought to guarantee that it’s the highest quality content they can offer.
When answering questions, there is something inherently respectful—almost complimentary to the questioner—in taking a moment to think. It signals that you take the question seriously, that you’re not delivering a canned answer, and that you listened to the question all the way to the end.
Remember, if you’ve been given 15 or 30 or 120 minutes to present, you own that time, and it’s up to you to use it as efficiently and effectively as you can. Sometimes, that means giving yourself a moment in order to give your audience the best you’ve got.