Executive Rewind: Dealing with the Pregnant Pause

You Complete Your Answer, and the Interviewer Just Stares at You

The next  move is theirs!


A pregnant pause by an interviewer, whether on purpose or while fishing for the next question, possibly is the most uncomfortable feeling you can experience. You’ve answered the question, and you’re waiting for the next one. The reporter just stares at you, or is looking down at their notes. “Maybe I didn’t answer that question fully enough,” you think. So you elaborate, and end up saying something you regret or that just confuses your original answer and ends up taking you off message.

The air is pregnant with anticipation. The reporter might be doing this purposely, to see what unintended words spill out. Or, they might honestly be searching for the next question.

Angie Howard

When You’re Done, You’re Done

The onus is on the interviewer, not you. If you’ve given your answer (message), STOP! No matter how long the period of silence lasts, it will not show up as white space in print or dead air in a broadcast story. We know it’s uncomfortable when it happens, but your future discomfort could be a lot worse if you get sucked in and end up saying something you’ll regret.

Angie Howard, an executive with the Nuclear Energy Institute, seems to have understood that when interviewed by Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto about building more nuclear power plants in America. He asked about the people who say “Not in my backyard,” and she responded crisply and concisely. In fact, the question was longer than the answer. But she stopped when she was done. It was Neil’s job to keep the air filled.
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Paul Harvey

But You Can Use It, Too!

The pregnant pause does have a place in your communications quiver. It can be used effectively in presentations and speeches. The master of the pregnant pause is radio commentator Paul Harvey. His ability to use dead air to communicate is unequalled.

A few years ago, Harvey spoke to a business group in Bakersfield, California. His topic: why is news always so negative? Harvey had the unique ability to identify with his audience while also giving a reasonable explanation in answering that question, and in a purely entertaining way.
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The Media Trainers® Re–winder Reminder:

  • The pregnant pause is a tactic employed by some reporters in the hopes you’ll “spill the beans” by saying more than you intended. Or, your interviewer might just be pausing to think of another question.
  • Either way, don’t get suckered. Give your response and stop. It may feel uncomfortable—in fact, it definitely will be uncomfortable—but your job is to deliver messages responsively. Period. Not to lead the interview.
  • Remember, the pregnant pause will not appear in the story that results from the interview either as empty white space or dead air.
  • The pregnant pause has great dramatic effect when used strategically in presentations and/or speeches.

The Media Trainers®

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