I was working with this amazing client recently on an upcoming presentation. His talk was about living through the near poverty upbringing of his family of origin; about his laser sharp focus to graduate from college, with unbelievable odds – a first for his family; and about finding love and building a new family along the way. His story was powerful, emotional, and motivational. He told it beautifully with great sequencing and strong meaning. And he told it too fast. Every single word was delivered at breakneck speed. The challenge in working with this speaker was not lack of content, nor structure of that content but the unbelievable fast paced delivery of his story.
Maybe you fall into this category. You are an energetic person, an external processor who is stimulated and inspired by new things, new ideas. Your pace of delivery is fast because “you’ve always been this way” or perhaps you are time starved or perhaps there are so many interruptions to your day that you must a la carte each task and move on to the next one.
A speedy delivery can convey passion, excitement, and urgency. Combining that passion with an appropriate mix and balance of pace allows your audience to hear and appreciate your talk.
Whatever the reason for your road runner pace, when you are a speaker, your audience silently is crying “uncle” and either walks away from your talk or takes out another form of communication (their smart phone) where they can communicate at their own speed. They mentally or physically disconnect.
What can a recovering speed speaker do to slow down their pace? Here are some tips that may help you and keep you from overwhelming your audience with excitement:
Clock your speaking rate. Take your smart phone and record you sharing your talk for a minute. The formula is: Words Per Minute = total words/# of minutes.
Evaluate your speaking rate:
• Low: less than 110 wpm
• Conversational: between 120 wpm and 150 wpm.
• Fast: more than 160 wpm
• Radio hosts and podcasters speak at 150–160 wpm.
• Auctioneers and commentators speak between 250 to 400 wpm.
Mark Your Script: If you have an outline for your talk (which I hope you do) mark “^” in your copy for a quickness of delivery. Mark a “v” in your copy for when you need to slow down. The periods at the end of your sentences are there for a reason. Take a breath at the end of the sentence. Mentally count to three. It will feel unnatural at first but become comfortable soon. To be an effective communicator to our audience, our speaking rate needs to be more purposeful and slower than our conversational or reading rate. Variety is the key but for a speedster, marking your copy can improve your pace.
Practice: Practice your presentation aloud. (A presentation always sounds perfect inside our head!) When practicing your presentation, record it with your smart phone. Set it aside for a day or two and then hear it with fresh ears to see where you can incorporate a breath, a pause, or to allow the audience time to catch their breath or respond to you. A presentation is a two-way conversation – with you at the microphone. Mixing up the pace allows your audience to absorb the message, process it, and respond appropriately with humor, awe, or empathy.
Breathe: Another reason speaker speed demons are created is nervousness. When we are agitated, nervous, or anxious, our rate of delivery quickens. Purposeful, slow breathing is not only a gift you give yourself, but your audience as well. No one wants to sit in an audience in front of a speaker who is frantic or anxious and agitated. Be kind to yourself. Purposeful, deep belly breathing slows down the heart rate and signals the mind with a confident – “I’ve got this. I’m in control.” There’s a reason yoga classes focus on Pranayama, or breath control. Those skills work well in class and in the speaking world as well.
So, what happened to the speedster speaker that I was working with? I am happy to say that with much practice and using these tools on a consistent basis, he delivered a well-paced, more relaxed talk that his audience loved.