Although phylogenetic hypotheses can provide insights into mechanisms of evolution, their utility is limited by our inability to differentiate simultaneous speciation events (hard polytomies) from rapid cladogenesis (soft polytomies). In the present paper, we tested the potential for statistical power analysis to differentiate between hard and soft polytomies in molecular phytogenies. Classical power analysis typically is used a priori to determine the sample size required to detect a particular effect size at a particular level of significance (a) with a certain power (1 - β). A posteriori, power analysis is used to infer whether failure to reject a null hypothesis results from lack of an effect or from insufficient data (i.e., low power). We adapted this approach to molecular data to infer whether polytomies result from simultaneous branching events or from insufficient sequence information. We then used this approach to determine the amount of sequence data (sample size) required to detect a positive branch length (effect size). A worked example is provided based on the auklets (Charadriiformes: Alcidae), a group of seabirds among which relationships are represented by a polytomy, despite analyses of over 3000 bp of sequence data. We demonstrate the calculation of effect sizes and sample sizes from sequence data using a normal curve test for difference of a proportion from an expected value and a t-test for a difference of a mean from an expected value. Power analyses indicated that the data for the auklets should be sufficient to differentiate speciation events that occurred at least 100,000 yr apart (the duration of the shortest glacial and interglacial events of the Pleistocene), 2.6 million years ago.