The Myth About Fast Talkers | Public Speaking Tips
Are you a fast talker? Have people advised you to slow down when you give presentations?
If so, you may have tried to train yourself to speak more slowly. That works for some people, and if you’re one of them, you may not need to read the rest of this post.
But for many people, trying to speak slower results in a commensurate drop in energy. Like the old game of trying to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time, asking someone to slow down and maintain their energy is usually an incompatible request.
There’s good news: You may not have to slow down. According to Michael Erard in Um…:Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean:
“We commonly think that some people speak faster than others, but [psychologist Freida] Goldman-Eisler found that someone who sounds like a fast speaker simply uses shorter pauses. Speed has more to do with the amount of time left between sounds than how quickly the sounds are spoken, which is a fairly constant ten to twelve sounds per second.”
As a demonstration, I recorded two short audio files. I tried to keep my words-per-minute consistent in both takes. For the first take, I didn’t include any pauses. For the second version, I did.
That demonstration, along with my observation of many dozens of speakers, seems to confirm that pauses alone can change the perception of whether someone is a fast talker—even if the actual speaking rate during speech is roughly the same. That may not work in every case, but I’ve found it works in many of them, particularly because speakers can immediately incorporate this skill without losing their energy.
If you’ve ever been accused of being a fast talker, try this exercise. Then ask the people who know you best whether they perceive you to be speaking at a more controlled, deliberate pace. If they do, you may be able ignore the advice to “slow down.” Instead, just introduce regular pauses—and keep your default speaking rate the same.
Want to learn more about public speaking? Check out our recommended reading list!