How to slow down nervous, speedy speech

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The most irritating speech habit of teenagers: They rush their words, guaranteeing their audience will have to work extra hard to understand them. Don’t be a speech adolescent!

By Scott Schwertly | Posted: July 23, 2014

Most presenters suffer from rushed speaking as a result of nervousness. For an audience to fully digest what you say, aim to speak at about 140 words per minute (WPM). The late skilled presenter Steve Jobs spoke 158 WPM, while an auctioneer speaks 250-400 WPM. How can you slow down your inner auctioneer when you present? Here are a few tips:

Find your WPM

Not sure if you need to adjust your speaking speed? Use an online calculator like the Speed of Speech tool to discover your average, although keep in mind that this average will probably increase in front of an audience.

Avoid memorization

Memorizing gives you the ability to race through information, so avoid it. An unskilled Shakespearean actor will rush through the memorized text as if he or she were reading a grocery list. If you must memorize text, take a lesson from actor Jonathan Slinger who plays an incredibly slow-speaking Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production.

Plan pauses

Don’t think of your text or speech as one giant paragraph. Break it up into chunks, and make sure you take a moment to pause when you reach the end of those sections. A second-long pause (use the classic “one-Mississippi” in your head) will be sufficient to distinguish a new section.

Use a metronome to rehearse

There are several free metronome apps for Apple and Android which can help keep time as you practice your presentation. The click of the metronome can be set to your desired speech goal per minute. Begin with 100 clicks per minute to get a feel for pace, and adjust accordingly.

Listen

Seek outside inspiration to become a slower speaker. YouTube is an amazing resource to find some famous speeches and give you a better idea of how effective pacing sounds. Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Amy Tan are all examples of fantastic, well-paced public speakers to emulate.

Stretch vowels

This is a common technique for non-English speakers with heavy accents; stretching your vowels can help slow you down and keep you focused. Imagine that the vowels are italicized as you speak, and take time to pronounce them clearly. Use this technique as you practice, but make sure that you sound natural during the presentation by asking a friend to listen.

Slowing down your speaking increases comprehension, makes you sound authoritative, and helps you appear calmer. In the words of Andrew Lightheart from Cobalt Communications: “In coaching over 4,000 presentations, there is one thing I have never said: ‘Speak faster.'”

What tricks do you practice to eliminate fast speech? Let us know in the comments.

Scott Schwertly is the founder and CEO of Ethos3, where a version of this article first appeared.

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