The power of the pause in media interviews

    Pausing before you speak in a media interview is one of the most effective interview techniques you can master. Not only does it help if you have a tendency to lean on filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘ah’ but it makes the difference between a good and bad media interview or press conference.

    For the person being interviewed, pausing has a wide range of benefits. It allows you to be calm and concise, maintain control, and speak with confidence.

    By embracing the power of the pause in media interviews, you’re using silence with dramatic effect.


    What is the power of the pause?

    The power of the pause it the ability to take a breath before you start speaking. You’re stopping, very briefly, to think about what you’re going to say before you say it. It might only be a for a second or two, but it is those vital seconds that allow you to start speaking with authority. Your voice will be strong and you’ll sound credible and trustworthy. It also sets the tone for the interview and makes you feel like you’re in control.

    We’ve all seen those ‘train wreck’ interviews where the journalist uses rapid-fire questions to catch the interviewee off guard or to trick them into saying something they don’t want to. The person being interviewed responds in the same manner by speaking over the end of the journalist’s questions and invariably ends up looking angry, shifty, and sneaky and invariably says  something they never intended to.

    It’s a bad look and the interview is remembered for all the wrong reasons. The messages the interviewee wanted to convey are lost and the media coverage could go against them, costing them more in the long-term.

    Pausing is a gift that when used correctly can make the difference between a good performance and a bad one.

    Answering difficult questions

    Before an interview, it is important to prepare. Take the time to think about the questions you’re likely to be asked and know how you want to answer them. Write out your key messages so you know exactly what you want to say regardless of what you get asked. If it helps, have someone conduct a mock interview with you so you know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Importantly, take some deep breaths. This slows your heart rate, helps to reduce any anxiety you may be feeling, and helps to clear your head. And remind yourself to pause.

    The benefits of pausing

    1. Gives you time to think

    A pause allows you time to consider what you want to say and how you want to say it – which key messages you want to deliver, and in what order.

    2. Makes you feel more confident

    A pause means your voice will start strong, helping you to sound more authentic and credible. A strong start will give you energy to help carry you through the interview. A pause also makes it easier to handle challenging interviews.

    3. Calms your nerves

    A pause is a reminder not to rush and to focus. If you’re nervous, filler words ‘um’, ‘ah’, and ‘like’ creep in, diminishing your credibility and distracting from your message. If you feel calm, you’ll speak confidently and at the right pace, overall making you perform better.

    4. Allows you to emphasise a point

    A pause slows your speech pattern and delivery so that it comes across as more deliberate, making it easier for your audience to hear and understand what you’re saying. This is particularly important for pronouncing numbers and helps to distinguish between a million and a billion, for example.

    5. Makes for easier edits

    A pause means there’s clear audio between a journalist’s question and your answer. This gives editors an easy point to take your answer and insert it into the story, particularly in television and radio news. There’s nothing worse than a journalist finding the ‘grab’ they want and not being able to use it because there are two voices speaking over the top of each other.

    How long should you pause?

    So, how long should you pause? It doesn’t need to be very long, no more than a couple of seconds. But if you need a little longer than that to get your answer right, then take it. It’s better to present a good answer rather than fumble your way through because you’re scared of taking too long to answer a question.

    And if you do fumble, you can always pause, take a breath, and start again. TV and radio journalists would much prefer to work with clean answers than trying to edit their way around your ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, and stumbles.

    A couple of seconds will also seem longer to you than it actually is. Even so, don’t be afraid to use it as it is a strategic technique to help nail your interview.

    When not to pause

    It’s important to know when to pause and when not to pause. During a crisis, pausing for too long can make you look unprepared and as if you don’t know or understand the impact of the crisis you’re commenting on. It can also make you look sneaky, like you’ve got something to hide. In a crisis, it is important to control or change the narrative and these things are very hard to achieve if you’re not confident or credible.

    Another instance when it is not a good idea to pause for too long is during live on-air interviews. Long gaps of silence can indicate you weren’t paying attention and therefore not taking the interview as seriously as you should. It can also demonstrate you weren’t properly prepared. These impressions can lead to negative reactions from the audience and can do more harm than good.

    The power of the pause in media interviews is enormous. To simply stop, take a moment, reset if you need to, and not rush your answers can be the difference between a good interview and a bad one.

    For a decade, we have been preparing industry leaders to be interview ready and confident to manage the media. Our media trainers have asked the tough questions working for A Current Affair as well as working as media advisors preparing federal politicians to speak to the Canberra Press Gallery. If you’d like to learn more about our tailored media training sessions, contact us.