The “fail” pause and the perfect pause
I start almost every essay support session asking students to read-aloud their college essay drafts, and for most it’s like asking them to read the omens in my baby’s dirty diapers.
I can’t count the number of times my students lower their eyes and barrel through the read-aloud, with nary a pause.
Well, that’s not true: they take one pause at the beginning, the “fail” pause, and the last and only time they’ll inhale for the duration of their read.
A puree of words, no connection to the audience (me), no pacing to measure impact or resonance. I can hardly hear them, and they can hardly hear themselves. They zoom through the read, like the Dalai Lama will condemn them to Samsara, or Obama exile them from the US, if they take too long or stumble on a sentence.
(That’s why DL and BO are sitting up there in the photo looking so compassionate, right guys?).
Lose me or hold me?
By contrast, my Whole Heart Connection teacher, Thea Elijah, can hold a whole room with her pause.
Nobody snickers, squirms, or gets nervous. No one checks their phone or doubts her credibility.
The silence is not awkward. It is very very very full.
Everyone just waits for her to begin speaking again.
Two kinds of pauses
Thea describes it this way: there are two kinds of pauses. There is the pause where the speaker disconnects from the room (the audience), goes inside, and gets lost in their own stuff. They have “lost touch with the field” (i.e. the rest of us. Hellooooooooo, come back!).
But then there is the very different kind of pause where the speaker stays connected to the room (the audience) but stops speaking long enough to check-in inside. Like an energetic, mighty octopus, the speaker is still completely aware and part of “the needs and the nature of field” (i.e. the rest of us).
The first kind of pause is the lost cause. You can make a come-back from it, but basically you’ve given your audience a reason to doubt you.
The second kind of pause is rallying for the cause, like a collective “moment of silence” after a tragedy; everyone– speaker and audience– remains profoundly connected with a shared focus, and the silence is for a purpose.
What is the purpose of the pause?
In this second kind of pause, the speaker says, “I have to check inside for– the truth, the right words, what I really mean, hold on, I’m not going away, I’ve got you all, I’m here.”
Ever heard MLK Jr. speak? (NO? click here right this minute). His cadence is amazing. The pauses are mighty, and necessary to absorb his points.
Similarly, no one complains about the pristine silence between verses of a song.
Those moments of pause are built into the messages. They are part of the point.
When powerful people pause, they are self-correcting. They are checking for the truth–inside or outside. They are listening for the impact of their words on the room, or re-calibrating what this moment calls for.
Powerful people seek true words
They are not falling back on what they already know. They are risking creating something true.
They are not afraid to take a minute.
They are not afraid if they stumble on words, or make a mistake, or phrase something poorly.
They are not afraid of their audience.
They trust their audience, and they trust themselves.
Powerful people pause.
And you can too
So the next time you need a minute in front of a group– reading your work aloud, hearing that something you said sounds off, wanting to change your phrasing or your meaning on a dime–just take it.
Try it first in a low-stakes dyad– talking to your friend, partner, the postal worker, the sandwich clerk. Pause, but don’t shrink, falter, or lose the connection.
Then try it when stakes are higher. Pause on purpose, even if you don’t need to.
It’s what powerful people…
What’s that Whole Heart Thing?
Some of you might have been wondering…
What’s that Whole Heart Connection I mentioned above?
Exactly what it sounds like, and you and your heart can get in on it here.
And did you notice those two public figures in the photo above? That was at my most recent Essay Intensive workshop….
called Wishful Thinking.