How to Use Pauses and Be Persuasive | Shonda Rhimes Ted Talk Tips

By Apr 3, 2019 April 5th, 2019 Ted Talk Tips

If you have watched TV, or Hulu, or Netflix in the past few years—you have seen a Shonda Rhimes show. She is responsible for over 70 hours of television—and if you think about how hard it is to make an hour of television come to fruition—this woman is, as described, a titan. She did not always love speaking publicly—so I really enjoyed watching her TED talk “My Year of Saying YES to Everything”

Shonda Rhimes demonstrates, above all how to be persuasive and use a good pause.

Let’s look at how Shonda shows us how to be persuasive and use a good pause.

Strength: Pauses

Shonda is very good at comedic timing—but also being comfortable within a pause.


Using the pause at 2:06, Shonda talks about how playing with her children likely saved her career—then she does a three second pause after this statement. THIS IS SO EFFECTIVE! What a wonderful use of THE PAUSE. She does not say “um… so… well… next” after this statement. She simply takes a 3 second pause and lets that statement be soaked up by the audience. At this point in the video we are literally hanging on her every word. I cannot wait for what she is about to say next. So for those of you who like to sound this out—she says the word “career” then…beat…beat…beat…she says the next sentence. And I am now on the hook to watch whatever she wants to tell me for the next 16 minutes. She uses pauses many times throughout her talk—but this is an excellent example for how to use a pause.


The pause is such an effective tool as a leader because you can demonstrate your confidence—but also make sure your audience is tuned in, hanging on your every word—and that they are getting every word.

Strength: Shows how to be persuasive

Ms. Rhimes is in total command of her audience. When you are calm, cool and collected your audience will come to you, rather than you coming to your audience. She OWNS this audience.


At 2:32 in the talk, she mentions one of her many accomplishments. The audience begins to clap—but with the wave of her finger she tells them not to—because this is not the point of her talk. She is TELLING them with this simple wave to WAIT. She is persuading them to listen to the point SHE wants to make as opposed to what they want to hear. While I am SO IMPRESSED that she is responsible for 70 hours of television, that is not what she wants me to take away from this talk. She has persuaded me to listen to her even further. She even says a minute later, “I don’t tell you this to impress you” then goes on to say her key message and I am ALL IN—persuaded by her.


The impact of her being so calm and controlling the room—and breathing from one point to the next has everyone in that audience (and those other 4 million viewers) persuaded.

Now the fun part. Shonda is an amazing speaker. With loads of authenticity, leadership presence, charm—I could go on and on. So what are some areas of opportunity for her?

Opportunity: Walking

Shonda is such a powerhouse. She also has amazing high heeled shoes on and I love them, but she did stand in one place for the entire talk.


At 9:58 when she is sharing a personal story about her child not calling everyone “honey” anymore and that her child is growing up—if I were in the audience sitting on the side I would want see and experience MORE of Shonda—she is such a powerful storyteller—but she stays in place the entire time. She looks powerful and comfortable—but this would have been an opportunity not only to show off those amazing heals, but for the audience on EVERY SIDE to get to see all of her facial expressions and feel like she is talking to/including the entire room.


Walking on transitions is a wonderful way to maintain audience engagement—but also to make sure the entire room you are speaking to has an opportunity to experience your full direction of energy head on. You want to make sure everyone in your audience is included (even in the back of the room or in the cheap seats). Walking between points is a wonderful way to make sure everyone can see you—but that you stay engaging. That is one way she can persuade her audience even more.

Opportunity: The neutral position

Shonda uses so many natural and authentic hand gestures, but they never seem to leave the mid-section of her body.

Example: At 15:58 you can see her “resting position” is the same as it has been throughout the entire talk. Her hands never venture to the lower half of her body.

Impact: When you use what we call “a low neutral” position—it is almost like an etch-a-sketch. You make a drawing, then you erase it and move on to the next. This concept can be applied to the neutral position. When you are gesturing and telling a story or making a point-to come back to a neutral position lets your audience know you are transitioning between points and moving on. It is also a great tool to sit in a pause and let your audience think about what you just said without distracting them with your hands.


So these are ways Shonda not only commands how to use a pause, but also persuades her audience—and how to add impact to her already AWESOME speaking style If you would like to translate some of my review into action, we invite you to explore Leadership Speaking Bootcamp.

Executive Speaking

Author Executive Speaking

Anett Grant has 40 years of coaching top executives, leaders, and emerging leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as countless midmarket and small businesses from all over the world.

More posts by Executive Speaking

Leave a Reply

Notify of