If you’re like most people on the planet, the pace of your speech speeds up when you’re excited, nervous or even passionate about something. A speedy delivery can be very effective when you have great news to share with friends, but it’s decidedly less so when you’re pitching new business or trying to impress a senior executive. When you speak like you’re trying to beat a shot clock, your audience can’t keep up with you or connect with your content. And that’s a shame because you’ve got great ideas that are worth listening to. What’s a fast talker to do?
The best place to start is silence, and recognize that it is easier to stop talking than it is to slow down. Rather than focus on the number of words per minute coming out of your mouth, take a breath, a beat, and pause. Here are ten ways you can prompt yourself to do just that:
Enumerate. When you enumerate the points you’re making, you’re naturally inclined to pause after the number. As a bonus, enumeration adds clarity to your communication. And people think you’re organized.
Truncate. Don't be afraid to follow an enumerated point with a truncated expression or sub-header. For example: "First. [Pause.] Nature versus nurture. [Pause.] While many people may come down on the side of DNA to explain extraordinary performers, I am squarely on the side of nurture…"
Ask rhetorical questions. Why? Well, what follows a rhetorical question? A pause! Few people use rhetorical questions, which is a shame because they’re helpful pause prompters. And your audience will be even more mentally engaged in your talk as their brains try to answer your rhetorical question. As an aside, any time you think you are losing your audience and you want them back, simply pose a rhetorical question. Of course, you don't want to overuse rhetorical questions, but very few speakers even come close to risking overuse.
Pause your hands. On occasion, you may want to use your hands to delineate the points you’re making. When you do so, try to leave your hands in place for longer. If you are discussing the objectives for two parties in a transaction (say, a record label and a recording artist), you may use your hands to delineate what each party is trying to achieve. As you physically delineate the parties in the space in front of you, leave your hands out, holding the place you’ve created for each party, for longer. This will enhance your presence, increase your clarity, and prompt you to pause.
Follow empathic points up with some silence. One of the challenges for fast talkers is that their emphatic statements don’t land with the intended emphasis because they get lost in a flood of words. Make it easy for people to capture, consider, and retain your most important points.
Make emphatic statements s l o w l y. If trying to add some silence after your most important points isn’t prompting you to pause, try making your emphatic points as slowly as you can. Watch George H. W. Bush in 1998 saying, “Read. My. Lips. No. New. Taxes." He may not have delivered on his promise, but he did deliver his message and he got elected.
Use some short sentences. Those who speak quickly are often also blessed with verbal fluidity—they have no trouble finding new words to follow their last ones. As a result, they often speak with long sentences that contain multiple subordinate clauses. As one sentence rolls into the next, it is difficult to identify where one paragraph ends and a new one begins. Short sentences stand out. Use them. And if you follow them with a pause, they’ll work extra hard for you.
Proactively create silence. This is a deceptively simple tip. For those who are willing to incorporate it, it can deliver huge returns. Often the simplest thing you can do to improve your speaking is nothing, except revel in some silence.
Lengthen the duration of eye contact. Somehow, there is a string and pulley system that connects your eyes to your pace. When your eyes slow down, so does your voice. Try to lengthen the duration of eye contact per person to 3 to 5 seconds and wait for a comma or period before turning to the next person. This will strengthen your connection with your audience, enhance your presence, and slow down your pace.
Increase the volume. Volume is often another string-and-pulley connection to your pace. When you increase the volume, your pace slows down.
To take these tips for a test drive, enroll a friend or a colleague and tell them you are working on your fast talking ways and trying to add more pauses to your presentations. Then go ahead and try to explain something to them with way too many pauses and pauses that feel much too long. Then, ask them for their feedback. There will likely be a huge gap between how appropriate you thought the pauses were compared to their experience. It is rare that anyone ever successfully pauses in ways that those listening find to be too frequent or too long. Use their feedback to help you grow.
Adding pauses will help you slow down and allow your audience to capture more of your gems. They will help you harness your passion without losing the essence of you or your message.