Speedy speaker? How to slow down your speech

Do you speak miles a minute? Is it sometimes difficult for listeners to follow you, especially during an important presentation? This is something I have struggled with for years, and while I still work on my speech skills everyday, I’ve come up with a few tips to help the speedy speaker to slow down.

First, let’s explore why this happens.

The human brain can process a lot of information from many mediums at one time. The average person speaks about 150 words per minute, but the human brain can process more than 500 words per minute. So technically, even if you were speaking at a rate of 300-400 words per minute, you could be understood, but the listener might be distracted from your content and assume you are nervous, even if you are not, because that speed is so atypical.

I remember when I was little and my dad would watch episodes of The West Wing on TV. As a child I had no idea what was going on because everyone was talking so fast and they were always de-briefing someone as they were walking down a hallway and then the scene would change. Even as an adult the show is a challenge to follow. In the real world “fast talkers” are stereo-typically portrayed as politicians and sales people. Even if you are a politician or a sales person, do you want to be associated with the stereotypes of your profession? Probably not since most of those stereotypes depict fast talkers as manipulative.

How do you slow down your speech?

Now that you recognize the importance of speaking slower you have to make an active, conscious, deliberate effort to slow down. It takes practice and discipline like any other muscle or skill. You have to believe that your hard work will pay off, or you won’t keep it up. The consequences of not taking action and continuing to speak at a super fast pace are significant if you give a lot of presentations. Your grade or your job could depend on your presentation skills.

Calm your nerves. One of the most common reasons why people speed up their speech is because they are nervous. How do you get over being nervous? It’s a psychological and physical process. Your brain says “this is important, better get stressed out” so your adrenaline starts pumping and your body goes into fight or flight response. This can result in your hands shaking a little, your face getting flushed, and your speech to speed up. The first two reactions are physical the third is psychological, and when you can get control over your psychological stress and practice enough, your body will tell your hands to stop shaking and your face to stop reddening because presenting is not that big of a deal. Stress is always subjective. Tell yourself a few times in a mirror before your presentation that it’s not that big of a deal, and talk yourself up to build your confidence. Why waste a primitive fight or flight response on a silly little presentation, even if it is to a Fortune 500 CEO? 

Trim your script. A second reason why people tend to talk faster than normal is because they are under a time limit. It’s understandable that if you have a time frame to meet and a lot of information to convey that you might speed up to fit it all in. This seems like a perfectly logical approach and that’s why everyone does it- but it’s actually the worst thing you can do. When giving an important speech impact will be much more lasting to the listener than contentListeners will remember how they felt about what you said, not what you actually said. That means taking time for pauses, intonation, emphasis, repetition, and  asking a few rhetorical questions to engage the listener. You may need to cut some of your content to give yourself time for some dramatic pauses. I know it’s hard because we can easily fall in love with our own writing, but it will be well worth the sacrifice. These techniques which require a slower speech pattern will give your message a much more lasting impact on your audience then if you sound like the end of a drug commercial listing off all the potential side-effects.

Practice every day. Maybe you speak fast all the time, maybe you only speak fast when you’re nervous. Try to create opportunities for you to practice actively slowing down your speech patterns. Volunteer to put yourself in uncomfortable situations so you can practice with strangers. Joining a local Toastmasters might be a good idea too.

It also might be a “millennial thing” to speak so fast. We can process more information, we can multi-task; our expectations for the amount of content we can convey are higher. But remember your audience. Your listeners may not always be fellow millennials. Likely your professor, your boss, or your recruiter will be from an older generation and you need to cater to them because they are the ones in control of your immediate fate. So if your friends, teachers, and boss say you sound like an auctioneer, maybe that’s a sign you should try some of these tips to slow down a bit.

What other tips do you use when you find you talk too fast?

 

Kelli Lampkin

Kelli Lampkin is a writer, traveler, comedienne, and entrepreneur.

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