PAUSES: Making them powerful and plentiful

For you as a speaker, whether just “speaking up” in a meeting or giving a presentation, pauses are also powerful. Studies show that pauses give your brain the extra moment to find your words without pressure. Studies also show that listeners remember what you say when your points are surrounded by pauses. Great speakers pause when they make points or when difficult information is shared.


Here are some examples. // means a pause. /// means a long pause (a second in length!) Read them, then say them aloud yourself. Make the pauses extra long when practicing aloud, because pauses in practice will be naturally reduced by 50% in everyday life.

Examples of key point pausing:

The team completed the task.///We now know//that we can succeed.///

Don’t just manage,//lead./// (attributed to Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electric)

If management doesn’t commit to this plan,//we shouldn’t move forward.///

Here’s the point://We have the right people and the right support to make this happen.///

Examples of topic change pauses:

That’s my update on Project 700./// Now, for Project 750, here’s the strategy.///

I hope that answered your question.///Returning to my slides, let’s look at the progress so far.///

This is the end of our first agenda item regarding cost.///The next item is finalizing the timeline.///

Examples of pauses for difficult or complex information:

The mechanism of action for this compound relies on X receptors,/genetic typing,/and Y.///

The reason we have to move you to another group/ is that our work has changed.

We can’t keep the contractors/ due to the tightened budget.

I’m sorry,/ but your performance appraisal will be lower than last year.

I hope these help you. Please let me know what you try to do and if you need help to do it.




With senior executives, it is most tempting to give a formal presentation. The problem with a formal presentation is that it often does not lead to great dialogue between the presenter and the senior executive. Better: using graphic slides and drawing diagrams of organizational structure and ideas, sit with the senior executive and have a dialogue about his or her goals, your goals, problems, implications, decisions to be made, and recommendations. Use a conversational tone of voice. Encourage questions. If the senior executive looks confused or preoccupied, immediately stop "selling" your idea and instead ask if he or she has a concern to voice. If they look away and seem to be thinking, stop talking for a minute or two as you would in a conversation.
Here are a few strategies for organizing your speaking during conversations. These will also help you to involve your listeners in the conversation.


2S + Q: 3 Sentences followed by a Question

In this approach, you state three sentences followed by a question. This approach buys you thinking time and keeps you calibrated with your listener by allowing you to get their feedback (by answering your question). An example is:

We have been studying our outsourcing plan and have found a few problems. They amount to lack of control and rising costs over a three-year period. We think that we can fix these before we sign a contract. What role will you play in negotiating this contract?


PIOUS: Problem - Issues - Obstacles - Understanding - Solutions

In this approach, you state the problem, identify the issues, discuss the obstacles you face in approach, talk about how all parties understand the situation, and the cover the solutions. Example:

The problem is that our costs are too high. This brings up the issues of outsourcing and cost cutting. An obstacle to outsourcing is the lack of day to day controls. An obstacle for cost cutting is that our budget is already very lean.  We understand that although we have a few obstacles, we can still use outsourcing and some cost cutting as solutions. The solutions are to outsource the service and do some small cost cutting.


BE CRYPTIC: Say key words without elaborating and respond to the executive's response. Example:

You: High cost. Lack of controls.

Them: You know, we haven't looked closely enough at cost. We got out of the habit of controlling cost when we got so focused on quality. You're right. What costs do YOU think are too high?


FOCUS ON GOALS AND WINNING: Talk/ask about actions you propose in relation to beating the competition and reaching or exceeding current goals. Example: "This action gets us closer to our goal of 11% reduction in cost."




Questions have literal (overt) meanings and implied (covert) meanings.


Literal meanings are the meanings derived from the words that you hear.


Implied meanings are derived from tone of voice and from underlying concerns, needs, and emotions.


Respond to both literal and implied meanings.

: "Do you really think you can make this concept work?" 

Literal meaning—"Can you do this?" Surface answer: "Yes." 

Implied meaning—"Have you the capacity? I doubt this will work." Implied answer: "The concept may seem complicated, but we have thought it through and have the right people to lead it."



If you are struggling with a question, you probably need more information from the questioner. Ask a clarification question.

: "Isn’t your concept something that we have already?"

Your response seeking clarification—"Are you talking about the school’s mission or the location?"



For very tough questions, pause and give neutral and considerate responses, including polite comments or talking about topics you would investigate.

Example 1: How can we approve your charter when your operations model seems disorganized?"

Neutral response: “….That’s important to clarify. Let’s have Mike make the operations clearer.”

Example 2: “You should do X better.”

Neutral response: “I’ll make a note of that. Thank you for pointing that out.”

Neutral response: To answer your question, we would investigate X and Y and talk to our consultants at Innovative Schools.”



Paradoxical responses: Be the opposite of defensiveness. (You can find something right in what they said, even if very negative.) Be diplomatic and partnering, even for challenges.

"You are absolutely right that we need to  focus on increasing STEM skills. We….”



If you cannot think of an answer to a question, switch levels of responses from conceptual to concrete or from concrete to conceptual. You can then match a concrete question to a concrete answer when you think of that answer, or answer a conceptual question with a conceptual answer. Answer questions directly but thoughtfully. Buy time if needed.

Example 1: "Are you sure about what you mean when you talk about efficacy?" (Conceptual question). Concrete answer—"By efficacy, I mean how well the students can …."

Example 2: Concrete question: “How many students could you attract your first year?” Conceptual answer: Student population distribution in that region is well understood….