5 Tips for Fast Talkers To Slow Down
Do you consider yourself a fast talker? It’s one of the more common concerns we hear when we work with our clients in our public speaking training sessions.
To get to the answer, let’s put that question in perspective. What do the numbers 150, 155, 250, 350, and 586 have in common? They represent the number of words you cram into a minute if you are an average speaker, a book-on-tape narrator, an auctioneer (on the slow side), a high school debater, and one of the fastest talking men on Earth.
That man, John Moschitta Jr., was a ubiquitous presence on television in the 1980s. He starred in commercials for several companies, including Mattel and FedEx. The delivery company’s “Fast Paced World” was one of the more ear-catching commercials of the past several decades. Here it is:
During the ad’s 56 seconds, our ears pick up many of the words this famous fast talker and other characters say. It helps that the spot is funny, entertaining, and quick.
During a typical presentation, however, you’d be asking your audience to undergo an extreme test in attentive listening if you similarly motored your way through your words. Our minds might understand what you are saying, but our energy and concentration would likely flag well before you concluded your talk.
Great speakers are neither motormouths nor slowpokes. They utilize different techniques to ensure their words are heard, understood, and, ultimately, remembered. Here are five ways to follow the proper speed limit.
5 Tips for the Fast Talker
1. Plot Your Pace
Most people speak 150 to 160 words per minute but tend to ramp it up when they get nervous or excited. If you are trying to convey excitement, an uptick in speed is natural, whether you are a fast talker or not. What isn’t natural is speeding through your entire presentation, which can make you appear as if you are nervous or lack confidence. When you rush your words, they also tend to tumble over one another. That lack of enunciation can make it difficult for the audience to understand what you are saying.
Here’s when you should …
Slow it down – Reduce your pace when you discuss more complicated information, emphasize a key point, or seek to build drama.
Stay on an even keel – For most of your talk, you can cruise along at an average conversational rate of speed, which is 150 to 160 words per minute.
Speed it up – Employ a bit more speed when you express excitement, issue an urgent call to action, or reach the punch line of an interesting story.
2. Press Pause
For some people, particularly those who are naturally fast talkers, a reduction in speed also brings about a reduction in energy – a formula that does little to attract an audience’s attention. Tinkering with your natural flow also may put you off your game.
Rather than simply ratcheting it down, introduce some white space between your statements. Think about an art gallery. If you were to visit one, and artwork covered the walls with nary a sliver of white space in between, would you know where to look first? Would you be able to fully take in each distinct image? Would it all just be a blur?
Here are two ways to give your words some space:
Adjust your pauses – Pausing does not necessarily slow how quickly you say the words, but it gives the perception that you are talking more slowly and deliberately. This is not an exact science. Adjust your gaps as you practice your presentation and they can become seamless and effortless during your presentation.
Here are some ideas:
– a one-second break can follow the end of each sub-point
– a two-second pause after you click to a new visual
– three to four seconds could span the gap between two main points
Test your pauses – Do a test run while speaking at your natural pace and employing pauses. Ask the people who know you best whether they perceive you to be speaking at a more controlled, deliberate pace. If that is their perception, you may not need to slow down. The proper pauses may be all the brakes you need. (If a volunteer audience is hard to come by, you can record yourself and track the difference between pauses and no pauses.)
3. Time yourself
With a stopwatch, time your presentation from beginning to end. Your practice time will typically be shorter than your actual presentation, which likely will grow by a few minutes as you react to the energy of the crowd and the environment.
If you’re running long as you practice, it’s better to cut the least important material than try to rush through the entire talk. The win is making everything you say count – not getting everything in and feeling good about the higher word count.
Along those lines, here’s a related tip:
Know where to cut – There are some points too profound to power through, while there are others that can be dropped without too much angst. On the day of your presentation, come armed with a plan of knowing where you can cut if you run long.
4. Be wary of the written word
If you plan to read excerpts, statistics, or anecdotes verbatim, just remember that we read faster than we talk.
Presumably, you have such an intimate knowledge of your topic that you might not even realize that you are verbally flying through a passage.
Here’s what you can do:
Mark up your script – When practicing from a script, mark it with slash marks to indicate the places you plan to pause. One slash mark (/) would indicate a short pause; three (///) would suggest a longer one.
Make eye contact – Even if you read from a passage or deliver a list of items, eye contact is crucial in making a connection with your audience. The very act of looking down, checking your notes, taking in the next line, and looking up to deliver it is enough to slow your pace.
5. Repeat yourself
In general, reiteration helps your audience retain and, later, recall your main messages. If you are a fast talker, moments of repetition give the audience a chance to catch up and focus on your key points. Here are effective places to do it:
In the beginning – As you open your speech, lay out the main messages you plan to convey.
During transitions – As you move from one point to the next, you create the bridge. You could say, “We have spoken about the economics of opening your own business. What about the mental demands?”
At the end – As you wrap up your speech, send your audience off with your key points. You might say: “Here are the three things that I want you to remember about opening a business. It takes a solid investment, a positive outlook, and the right team. No one said it would be easy. However, without the proper structure you can make it harder than it needs to be.”
If you are more comfortable moving at a quicker clip when you talk, you may not necessarily be putting your presentation in peril. With these tips, you will make the most of your unique vocal delivery, while ensuring your audience departs having clearly heard your most important points.