Hey, fast talker . . . speaking too fast for anyone to keep up? Here's how to slow down so listeners can enjoy listening to you AND take a breath!
Sorry . . . I just couldn't resist that. Actually, I'm not done. Here's a variation of the above:
Doyoutalk too fast forpeopletounderstand what you're saying?
I call that "word bunching." As you can see, it means that only some of what is said gets mashed together, while some words and phrases can still be heard clearly.
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If you talk like either of the above examples, it's almost certainly not news to you. But are you ready to get a handle on this problem? Even better, do you want generally to get your ideas across more effectively to listeners? If so, read on!
Get on the Right Track to Being a Good Speaker
First, let's grab this galloping bull by the horns. What's a beneficial rate of speech, anyway, and what's considered too fast? Generally, 120 - 150 words per minute puts you in the normal range of conversational or presentational speech. (If you’re interested, according to one source Steve Jobs clocked in at an average of 158 words per minute.)
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And the upper speed limit? Well, that appears to be somewhere around 637 wpm! When you get up into that range, you're limited by the actions of the muscles of your face, since the fastest that muscle fibers can contract is about five times per second.
So, go ahead and get timing yourself out of the way. Otherwise, you need to get off the track of a timed speech rate, because here's the important thing you need to know: speaking at the right pace isn't mechanical. You can make it so—the same way you can tie your brain up into knots about how many bullet points there should be on a slide, how many slides a presentation should contain, how long you should speak on each slide, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
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You can probably guess where I'm going. Discovering—yes, discovering, not learning—an effective speech rate for yourself should be organic. It's all about comprehension, not following a formula. Hey, you don't wear jeans and a black top every time you present, do you? What matters is what your listeners receive and understand. That will not only make you a more effective speaker. It's also the fastest and easiest way to slow yourself down.
Now, Steer Yourself in the Right Direction
Let's call this steering yourself in the right direction, which of course is toward your listeners. Your speech rate matters only in terms of how it helps you get through to people and influence them positively. If you're told you use too-rapid speech, it's an invitation and reminder to get back to basics when speaking in public.
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Make Your Audience the Sun. And that means making the audience the sun in your solar system. As I've written elsewhere, that's a long arc that includes conceiving, writing, practicing, and presenting your talk in ways that will resonate and strike home with your listeners.
It's a simple conclusion then, isn't it, to making the winning choice in terms of your speech rate? Pay attention to how all of this is coming across to your audience. Watch their nonverbal communication, and pay attention to their questions, moments of confusion, requests for clarification, and so on. But steer yourself in the right direction even before all of that starts coming your way, by making your talk audience-centric, not speaker-centric.
That is, think carefully about what you're saying in terms of listeners' prior knowledge, whether you're introducing new material, of the complexity of the idea, and whether you're advocating a new and unfamiliar course of action. In all of these cases, you will most likely need to slow down so that everyone understands.
And when you're discussing something familiar? Feel free to breeze through that section. Trying to stick to any formula will keep you focused on the formula instead of your audience's benefit! Make it easier on yourself by simply staying in the moment—which in public speaking means speaking conversationally to a group. To me, that sounds just like an actual conversation, where you give people time to process what you're saying before you go on.
 “Average Words Per Minute Speaking,” accessed at https://improvepodcast.com/words-per-minute/.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2021 for the eighth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His latest book is The Online Meetings Handbook, now available at The Genard Method and at Amazon. To know more about TGM's services, Contact Gary here.