(Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2014. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)
Are you a fast talker? Do you try to cram too much into your presentations and compensate with speed? Does your nervousness make you race to the finish?
No matter why you speed ahead, those of us listening will get more out of your talk if you slow down.
Here are five ways to hit the brakes and pace yourself during a presentation or public speaking gig:
1. Don’t speak as fast as you do in conversation.
You might speak as many as 400 words a minute in a lively conversation, but your audience needs you to slow down to 140-160 words a minute. It takes work to develop a slower presenting style, but you’ll be a more effective speaker.
2. Work on your nerves.
Speaking fast doesn’t help you or your audience, no matter how much you want to get your talk over with. Don’t speed up to solve your nerves problem. Do breathing exercises and get more practice until you’re confident enough to pace yourself.
3. Think of speaking like keeping time in music.
If you’re dancing to a band that’s playing too fast, you’ll never keep up. This is also true when you speak too fast—you ensure your audience won’t keep up with you.
Invest in a metronome and enlist a friend to set it close to your current speaking speed (you may be surprised). Dial it back gradually to practice to slower and slower beats per minute until you get used to a slower speaking style.
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4. Plan pauses into your sentences.
Musicians in symphony orchestras keep time with their toes—inside their shoes. You won’t see them tapping their feet, but they flex and pulse in time under the shoe leather.
Do that when you need to pause as a physical reminder to slow down. This is especially effective if you don’t have notes and can’t write down reminders to pause. All you need to remember are mental cues, like three beats in between sentences, and let your foot keep track.
5. Watch out for lists.
When you’re speaking a list—particularly when you know its contents by heart—you may rush through it without giving your audience time to comprehend each item.
Insert longer pauses between the items in a list, like this: “When we decided to raise more money, we recruited new board members with fundraising experience [pause/pause/pause], put our renovation plans on hold [pause/pause/pause], and focused on cultivating new prospects.”
Do you speak too fast? What techniques do you use to slow down?