How fast do you talk – are you a motor mouth or do you supply your words in measured mouthfuls? The chances are that you, like most of us, are a mixture of both depending on where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re talking to. Nevertheless, how fast you speak can have a significant impact on how seriously other people take you.
It is suggested that the average amount of words the average person speaks per minute, in normal conversation, is somewhere between 120 – 150. This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who is in the business of giving presentations because in those lull moments, which inevitably come with any first draft it’s difficult to resist boiling the exercise down to the count of the words you have on the page and doing the maths to work out just how many minutes of speaking time that will get you!
However, while many are quite happy to get through a presentation without making any mistakes, those who aspire to greater heights pay extra attention to the amount of words they are using; or to put it another way, to really make it count the word count really does count! In this case it is a decreased word count – or rather the art of talking more slowly – which can lead your words to land like measured blows and bring the weight of gravitas to any speech.
Slow Talking Experts Leave Lasting Impressions
Not for the first time, I emphasise the importance of practice in perfecting style. On this point you can study and learn from the masters. An obvious example is Winston Churchill, a self-made successful speaker whose journey to speech making notoriety is given insight through an article he wrote called The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, containing what he observes to be features common to great speeches. These include the correct pace to diction and rhythm – accentuating the importance of choosing apt words (“short, homely words . . . so long as such words can fully express the speaker’s thoughts and feelings”), rolling sentences and balanced phrases with the emphasis on how they are delivered.
In recent years, Barack Obama earned a reputation as a politician whose words weighed heavy with substance. Whenever he took the stage as President he had the knack of projecting a magnetic charisma which seemed to speak to each individual in the room. Note the measured pace (approximately 112 words per minute), the lilt of the rhythm and the knowing pauses – purposeful but not overplayed. Oprah Winfrey is another example of a great speaker. Her gravitas comes from a combination of measured words and just the right injection of emotion to engage her audience, as epitomised by her much-praised acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.
How To Slow The Pace?
Speaking too fast is something too many people do. This is especially the case with sales, where it seems that all too often, speed is perceived as equalling vigour, enthusiasm and an enticement (in reality it can come across as pushy, abrasive and obnoxious). However, fast talking can also be a side effect of nervousness and anxiety, and this is particularly the case for those who are inexperienced in the art of presentation.
If this chimes true, then I suggest acknowledging the nature of the issue and taking some steps to change your approach and slow down the pace. Bring some more gravitas into your speaking by embracing the pause. While some people can do this mentally, others will need to employ more of a physical prompt. Marking pause points in your speech where sections need emphasis is an option as is using a physical prop such as a glass of water as a physical firebreak – ie stop, small sip/pause continue. Sticking with the glass of water is also a good idea if caffeine is part of your quick talk problem.
Finally, do not confuse talking slowly with monotone, which is often a by-product of decreasing the pace of your patter and will have the opposite effect of boring your audience senseless. The right amount of emotion is necessary to make slow talk work, but not too much or else you could end up sounding rather disingenuous…