Very often, we hear speakers speak too fast. This results in a situation where the audience is unable to comprehend what they’ve said while also leaving the speaker breathless! Think of any Mutual Fund advertisement. At the end of the advertisement, there is a voice that cautions us and usually begins with “Mutual Funds are subject to market risks. Read the…”. The message is read out at such a fast pace that after the first few words, we tune out, as we cannot keep pace with the speaker.
On the other hand, there are few speakers who speak too slowly. The slow pace causes the audience to drift away, as the mind can think much faster than the flow of speech. They find the speech boring and switch to doing some other task in the time at hand.
We tend to speak fast when we are happy or excited. We speak fast even when we are very nervous since we just wish to finish speaking and get back to our seat! We could also be speaking fast because we want to say a lot of things in the little time given to us. Some of us may even have the habit of speaking too fast, owing to our cultural background, leaving the listeners bewildered!
We speak slowly when we are emphasizing a point or are thinking. We speak slowly when we are sad or are conveying sad news. Some of us may simply have the habit of speaking slowly without knowing it. We may be dragging our words, taking long pauses or using too many words to make our point.
Whether we speak too fast or too slow, we will not be able to gain audience attention. To be able to get the audience to comprehend what we are saying, we need to speak at a rate that they will be able to understand. Rate of speech is calculated as the number of words spoken in a minute. The ideal rate of speech is given to be 130-170 words per minute. The average rate of speaking of most TED speakers is 163 words (Dlugan, 2012).
Let us check the rate at which we speak at present. The easiest way to find out our rate of speech is to record our speech and count the number of words that we have spoken in a minute. It is a good idea to practice with your friends and ask them to give you feedback on your rate of speech.
How to Slow Down
Should you discover that you speak too fast, here are three techniques you can use to slow down.
When you write your speech script, deliberately introduce pauses in your speech. Practice pausing for a second at every comma and after every point you’ve made. Pause for 2-3 seconds after you have said something profound or before you move to the next topic. This will give the audience time to think and understand what you’ve just said and will also give you time to breathe.
In her article “Slowing down when you speak too fast”, Patricia Fripp suggests that we pause for one second at a comma, two seconds at the end of a sentence and three seconds at the end of a paragraph.
Make pausing a habit and you will find yourself slowing down.
When you practice, learn to emphasize or stress words. You can plan on this by underlining words in your speech that you should stress. This will allow you to slow down and add vocal variety to your speech. When you practice doing this, it will become a speech habit.
Make eye contact
Making eye contact will help you to get non-verbal cues from the audience, which will tell you if they are able to understand what you are saying. This will mean that you will not be mechanical in your delivery, but that you will strive to connect with the audience.
How to Speed Up
Should you find out that you speak too slowly, here are three techniques you can use to attain the right rate of speech.
Reduce the pauses
You may be pausing too often and for too long. If you find yourself doing this, reduce the pauses. As indicated earlier, practice pausing for a second at every comma and after every point you’ve made.
Check how many words you use
Sometimes, we may use too many words to make a point. When you are preparing to speak, write down what you want to say and check to see how many words you have used to make your point. Are there any words that are superfluous? Eliminate them and rephrase your point with fewer words. When you do this each time, you’ll get into the habit of saying more with less thereby learning to come to the point quicker instead of beating around the bush!
Practice Speaking at the Right Rate
Read a passage aloud. Check to see how many words you speak in a minute and aim to get to 140-150 words per minute. If you practice regularly, you can get to the accepted rate.
Here are some more tips from an article on how to slow down from University of Mary Washington.
With the right practice, you can get to the right rate of speech. Varying the rate as you speak is important. Keep in mind that when you are speaking to an audience consisting of non-native speakers of English, you have to speak a little slowly to allow them to understand your accent and absorb what you are saying.
I hope you find this article useful. Do share any other techniques that you may have used to improve your rate of speech.
In the next post, we’ll discuss the importance of pitch.
Andrew Dlugan, 2012, “What is the average speaking rate?”, retrieved from http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/speaking-rate/