Whether it's texting, tweeting or fast-forwarding videos, technology plays a part in making speed an expectation in everything we do. The influence of speed in our lives can also manifest itself in the way we talk. Talking fast becomes a common problem in communication and can work against you, whether in presentations, telephone calls, meetings or one-on-one conversations. If you're explaining something to a client or trying to influence an audience, talking too fast can confuse your listeners. And if people are confused, they probably won't buy your message.
Have you ever wondered "Why do I talk fast?" or do people often ask you to slow down when you present? You might want to explore some of the downsides of talking too fast and learn what you can do about it.
What are the downsides of talking too fast?
There are several problems associated with speaking too quickly. Each one of these can derail your presentation—and even cause a dent in your credibility.
Speaking too fast creates a negative impression.
One of the most detrimental aspects of talking too fast is that it can create a bad impression. Our culture is riddled with negative connotations of being a fast talker.
- Talking fast can make what you're saying appear "salesy," as though you're trying to sell something rather than imparting your expertise or knowledge to help someone decide. No one likes to feel that they're being sold to.
- You can have a well-thought-out and beautifully crafted message for your presentation, but if you speak too fast, your audience may miss out on it.
- It can also make you look impatient, aggressive or even lacking empathy for the listener. You may appear as someone just trying to get a transaction over with as quickly as possible without regard to the other person.
- At the other end of the spectrum, talking fast can be perceived as nervousness or lacking confidence. People prone to talking fast may be perceived as not knowing what they’re talking about. It's as though they’re rushing through their message because they feel uneasy. Talking too fast is the opposite of a composed leadership presence.
You may lose your listeners' attention.
Another detrimental aspect of talking fast is that it may cause people to tune you out. It's like listening to the uninterrupted speech of a telemarketer, and it's just too much work to try to keep up with the barrage of verbiage.
In their book The Art of Presenting: Your Competitive Edge, Jim Stovall and Raymond Hull, Ph.D. explain how people talking too fast can speak at speeds exceeding the central nervous system's ability to fully understand what's being said unless we exert some concentrated effort.
When this happens, the audience might politely nod at what you're saying, but they're not engaged. They have checked out.
You can lose the clarity of your message.
Talking fast can lead to a lack of clear enunciation, articulation and an engaging tone, preventing your message from taking hold in the listener's mind. They may hear your words but end up misunderstanding the full message.
Rapid speech can reduce your oxygen.
Talking too fast doesn’t allow you to breathe deep enough and can make you run out of breath mid-sentence. It can be a signal to the audience that you are anxious.
How Do You Avoid Speaking Too Fast?
The following are five hacks to help you avoid talking too fast. You can make these a part of your presenting toolkit.
Pauses are your ally.
If talking fast is your natural style, artificially slowing down your speech when you're delivering a presentation may not work. For one thing, it could make you sound unnatural or wooden, and it could also be stressful since it isn't your natural tempo.
Do you want to know how to speak slower? One solution is to add pauses:
- Add a short pause of about a second at the comma in a sentence.
- Add a pause of two or three seconds at the end of your sentences.
- Add a longer pause when you conclude a point before moving to your next point.
You can also add pauses just before you deliver a key statement and after a major point when you want to emphasize what you just said. To overcome talking too fast, consider adding frequent short pauses when talking about a topic that you know well: There may be a tendency to race through the material, and this is especially important when talking to a non-expert or mixed audience.
When using pauses as a part of your presentation style, try including pre-planned pauses in your script and rehearse as part of your practice.
Watch out for lists.
If you're enumerating a list of items that the audience is familiar with but need to be mentioned, it's okay to speed through them.
But you need to know how to speak slower if you're listing complex or new items to the audience.
In this case, it helps to add deliberate pauses after each item in the list. Better still, you can number each item to help you slow down so that the audience can grasp your message. Consider speaking in shorter sentences as well.
Take this statement, for instance: "We offer an algorithm to decipher social messages, cloud-based software to scan documents and state-of-the-art search functionality that helps find relevant information quickly."
That's a lot of information for the audience to process if you're talking too fast.
Instead, consider saying this: "The first feature we offer is an algorithm to decipher social messages." SHORT PAUSE. "The second feature is cloud-based software to scan documents." SHORT PAUSE. "The third item is state-of-the-art search functionality. This helps you find relevant information quickly." LONG PAUSE. See how this can slow down your rate of speech?
Connect with the audience.
If you wonder, "Why do I talk so fast?" it may be because you focus on delivering your message, but you are not paying attention to connecting with your audience. Connecting with your audience is a strategy that could help you slow down a bit if you find yourself talking fast.
One way to connect with the audience is by speaking only to their eyes. Rather than darting your eyes all over the audience during your talk, try locking eyes with one person at a time as you talk. This can help you connect with that person as you deliver a point. You can then move to another person in the audience, lock eyes and deliver your following statement or two.
Making eye contact helps you tap into the audience and can help prevent you from talking too fast. This can also help you get immediate feedback from the audience's body language. Survey the room to glean if they're getting your message. Do you get the feeling that you need to slow down a little to explain a point you just made?
Consider using a pacing and timing device.
One of the most unnerving aspects of presenting is the fear of running out of time. This fear may cause you to end up trying to talk faster to get everything in.
You can avoid talking fast by using a pacing and timing app, or the timing feature on presentation remotes, to help you stay on track:
- Speaker Clock is a countdown clock that shows big red LED digits. This lets you see the timer as you go through your presentation—even at great distances—so you are free to move around.
- The Logitech Remote allows you to set timed milestones within the app and receive vibration alerts directly to your hand.
- The Canon Wireless Presenter Remote also allows you to set silent vibration alerts.
- Presentation Timer notifies you how much time you've got left so that you can adjust on the fly.
There are many options to help you pace your talk and prevent you from talking fast. Try searching to find one that works for you.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you're prone to talking fast, and can't master how to speak slower, you can help your audience grasp and remember your message better by using the power of repetition.
Try this: Introduce a key statement at the start of one of your important concepts, repeat it in the middle and repeat it as a summary at the end.
How do you know if you are over the speech speed limit?
The average rate of speech for presentations is generally between 110 – 160 words per minute.
To calculate your rate of speech, record yourself talking for a few minutes and add up the words in your speech. Divide the number of words by the number of minutes in your speech.
Why does your talking speed matter?
You can have a well-thought-out and beautifully crafted message for your presentation. But if you are talking too fast, your audience may miss out on it. In a noisy, fast-paced business world, those who rise above the din of the crowd and speak in a way that gets their message heard can have a competitive advantage.
A version of this article was originally published on March 14, 2018.