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‹ View all articles 20th April 2016

What to do when you talk too fast

Public Speaking Essentials

 

Are you a fast talker? Do you cram so many words per minute into your speech that your audience is left scratching their heads? When you talk too fast it can cause significant problems both for you and your audience. Most of all you don't get your amazing, inspirational point across.

But what if I just talk too fast naturally?

We all develop habits - not just how fast we talk but things like how quickly you walk, whether you cut up all your food before you eat, tapping your nails on the table when you're thinking. We fall back into those habits easily. The solution? Create new habits! Change the fact that you talk too fast. Yes it's possible.  Talking too fast can be caused by having a flight of ideas
that sprint through your mind too quickly to be properly articulated.

Your goal should not be to cram in the information but to be understood.

The difference between rookie speakers and experts is their use of gaps and pauses. Newbies will quickly get off stage by talking quickly, whereas experts use powerful pacing. Whether you're nervous, excited, or just quickly glossing over your material because it's the boring 'facts' stuff - you're losing your audience. How do you know this? By looking at your audience of course! Are they nodding and giving you eye contact? Are they struggling to keep up by exhibiting uncomfortable facial gestures, taking frantic notes, or leaning way forward to try to listen? Pay attention to the cues. If you find you're going to fast, create a few gaps.

  • Take a sip of water.
  • Take a step away from the audience to check on your notes.
  • Change your PowerPoint slide or flipchart sheet without saying anything.
  • Ask your audience a question.

Fast talking is perceived as nervousness and low self-confidence. When you talk too fast it can make you appear as if you're rushing through 'to just get it over with' or that your speech is not important. It's not the best practice to present yourself as if you think people don't want to listen to you!

Focus on your reason for speaking.

If you’re just speaking to ‘take up time’, it will feel rather pointless – and no wonder you’ll want to rush through it. There is too much meaningless or ego-centric speaking out there anyway, so why add to it? But if you have a good reason to speak you will be willing to take up the time and space of your audience. A good reason to speak might be:

  • Youhave some information that would benefit your audience
  • You could improve their day a little bitthrough your energy
  • You have a new perspective that hasn’t been heard before
  • People will be more comfortable if you show leadership
  • They want to hear you speak, even if you don’t want it!

Take up space

When we’re nervous, we tend to hide in some way; through shrinking our body language, or rushing through our material. It’s all ways of saying ‘I’m not important enough.’

Once you’ve found your reason for speaking, it’s time to assert it through your body language and vocal delivery. Bring your awareness to some of the following:

  • Your posture: Allow your shoulders to open and your vital organs to receive oxygen. Oxygen has a pacifying affect on nerves, so the more open your body, the more calm you’ll feel.
  • Your positioning: Do you hide at the back of the stage (or wherever you’re speaking from), or allow yourself to feel comfortable in the spotlight? As soon as you look confident your audience will feel comfortable that you know what you’re doing, which will positively reinforce your actual feeling of confidence.
  • Your eye contact: Are you willing to let your audience see you? Practice looking them in the eyes and being seen as a speaker. It feels weird for a moment, but very quickly you’ll realise you’re meant to be there.
  • Your speed of speaking: An audience can’t keep up with super fast speaking, so it’s little wonder they switch off when someone’s racing through their material. Focus on slowing down and emphasizing your key moments; if you make it sound important, your audience will think it is important. Take your time.

Find your Own Style

For most of my younger years (believe it or not),  I was terrified of public speaking. It was simply the worst thing I could imagine doing. One of the things that made me nervous was the established approach to public speaking. When I looked for advice, all I found was a series of rules:
  • Good public speakers do eye contact like this
  • Good public speakers don’t fiddle as they’re speaking
  • Good public speakers don’t show that you’re nervous
  • Good public speakers stand here
  • Good public speakers say this sort of thing…
Above all, those rules were shouting, “Don’t be yourself, be someone else.”

What I realised was that the more we try to be someone else as a speaker – the more we lose what makes us appealing in our own way. I found the Six Qualities of an Inspiring Speaker… read more about them here.

Time can play funny tricks on us when we're speaking. We're excited, nervous, trying to remember our lines... it's no wonder we don't notice how quickly we're speaking.

  • Record yourself and listen to your pacing.
  • Have an honest person listen to your rate of speech and provide feedback.
  • Practice breathing between sentences.
  • Slow down so much it feels awkward. What is slow to you won't be to your audience.
  • Change it up! Some parts of your speech may require excited, quick speaking. Other parts need you to be slower and more profound. Speaking at ONE rate all the way through will make any speech boring.

Give yourself permission to experiment. We don’t all start at the same place. The very best job you can do is bring that charisma you have when you’re one-on-one and inject it into your public speaking. You know you’ve got “it”… it’s just about practicing fearlessness and bringing it to several-on-one. Remember that your audience wants to hear what you have to say and that our own worst enemy is ourselves.

 

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