Slow down. You are speaking too quickly!

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Slow down. You are speaking too quickly!

by David Hughes

reduce_speed_nowFor years I was a manager in a large corporation. When called upon to give presentations; to brief staff; or to brief senior management about business directions, I often spoke so quickly that many people in the room missed half the meaning and others missed all the meaning of what I was saying.

In those days I rattled off stories and information sessions so quickly that all I wanted was to get through all the material in the time I had, rarely pausing, keeping my eye on my stopwatch and sometimes on the audience, I rattled on as my anxiety levels rose, my heart raced, and my palms sweated.

I remember one time when giving a presentation, I asked for feedback and my manager said “You speak too quickly; slow down,” and others in the audience echoed his comments. Wow! I wasn’t expecting that.

That manager – who enjoys my eternal gratitude – steered me towards Toastmasters, telling me that Toastmasters was where I could learn, listen, speak, and above all slow down my speaking rate.

I took his advice, and started the journey. Boy, what a journey it’s been.

What I’ve learned along the way is that several factors influenced my speaking rate. 

  • My normal speaking rate
    was a product of my birth, culture, and history. Some people talk faster; some people talk slower.
  • Nervousness and stress
    Speaking under pressure tended to make me speak faster.
  • Mental fatigue
    When I was tired, I tended to speak more slowly and make mistakes.
  • Number of syllables in the words I used

Longer words take more time to speak. Consider these two sentences:

  • Favourable weather conditions are required when hang-gliding so as to avoid causing dangerous situations while flying. (16 words; 34 syllables)
  • Hang-gliding is a safe practice with very few accidents when the weather conditions are just right. (16 words; 25 syllables)
  • Complexity of content
    Longer sentences and more complex speech content means more pauses are necessary. This will slow down your speaking rate. (An audience needs time to digest and mentally process longer sentences and more complex content.)

In my speaking today and to slow down my speaking rate, I’ve learned that:

  • Generally, slower speech is more intelligible than faster speech.
  • Breathing time during pausing is very important for volume, projection, and pronunciation.
  • Pausing allows my audience time to digest what I’ve said and be able process it
  • Attempting to improve clarity while practising and using smaller words makes my language less complex and more easily understood by a wider audience.
  • Conveying emotion and emphasis or trumpeting important information slows me down.
  • Appropriate timing and use of gestures and body language needs fewer spoken words.
  • Good enunciation, sharp pronunciation, and proper stresses will produce clear language and make it easy for your audience to hear each word.

Final Thoughts

I know very few people who speak much too slowly, but quite a few who speak too fast. I was one who spoke too fast. Not now though, thanks to Toastmasters.

David Hughes – DTM

1 Comment

  1. Tim says:

    Great article. It’s funny though, I read the two paragraphs with longer and shorter words and I read the former one faster. It was if I had to speed up to get the words in. On the other hand, the paragraph with the short words seemed to have more ‘air’ in it: more room to pause.

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