1. a hormone secreted by the medulla of the adrenal gland, that stimulates the heart, increases muscular strength and endurance 2. C9H13NO3 (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition).
Ready to confront a hostile tribe attacking your cave, fight off a saber-toothed tiger, or face an audience in a high-stakes presentation? In terms of evolution and your response to danger, your body's reaction is similar in any of those situations. Your environment has suddenly become dangerous, and in response adrenaline is secreted into your bloodstream in the famous "fight-or-flight" response.
Of course, a speech or presentation isn't really a dangerous situation. Yet the need to persuade, make a sale, or present yourself in the best light can certainly ramp up pressure and stress. In response, your body produces stress hormones. As a result, your speech rate increases dramatically, and the pace of your presentation can be thrown out of control. (To get relaxed and focused in just 5 minutes, download my free cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking.")
The second worst thing about all of this is the feeling that you're off your game. The worst thing is the effect you know it's having on your listeners. A poorly paced presentation is difficult to absorb and respond to positively—the results you were hoping for from your audience but probably aren't achieving.
So what can you do to regain control? Here are 6 ways to use the situation at hand to speak more slowly and effectively. The great news about these approaches is that they will also improve your communication skills generally and boost your influence with audiences. That's how to become a more charismatic speaker! So relax, get set, and get back into the game:
- Invest yourself in your audience. Watch the body language, attentiveness, and comprehension of your listeners. See if you can notice how audience members are responding to what you’re saying. You should also be aware of the body language messages you're broadcasting.
- Breathe. Make sure you’re practicing diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing, including breathing more deeply and slowly. Speech anxiety can literally make you forget to breathe, so you find yourself gasping for air in the middle of your talk! Want to know more about belly-breathing? Read this article on how to achieve diaphragmatic breathing.
- Learn to trust silence. Discover the power of the pause. Speeches and presentations need pauses for a number of reasons: to let important information sink in, to create anticipation, and for you to move between main points of your talk. Silence is one of the most powerful speaking tools you own—don’t neglect it!
- Increase your rapport with listeners. Use inclusive language: “you” and “we” instead of “I” and “me.” For instance, rather than saying, “Here are 3 steps that should be taken to solve this problem,” say, “Let’s take a look at what we should do to solve this problem.” Mediocre presenters deliver information. Excellent speakers remind their listeners that together, they form a community sharing something of mutual value.
- In your practice sessions, tape yourself. The average American speaks around 140-160 words per minute. For the purposes of this exercise only, tape yourself speaking a two-minute portion of your speech, then transcribe what you said and count how many words were included. Get a sense of how far off you may be from the average speech rate. If you’re significantly fast, count out a maximum of 320 words and see if you can deliver them in two minutes with no time left over.
- Read some dense material out loud. Choose something that takes some explaining or a data-rich passage. Speak it out loud and tape yourself, as though you were talking to an intelligent but uninformed person on this topic. Did this slow you down? Were you an easier person to listen to on the tape while doing this exercise? If so, work on sounding closer to this person than the hyper-fast version of yourself.
Once you have your speaking rate under control, think about the other aspects of effective pacing: the order in which you introduce ideas, balancing the time you spend on each segment, how much time you take to answer questions, and the way you present information in terms of your audience's attention span. Here are 5 essential speaking techniques of leadership that can be of help.
For instance, people can usually pay close attention for about 20 minutes before they need a change of some kind. Do you build in changes of pace in terms of either content or delivery? Think about it. But please, while you're doing it, relax.
Key takeways from this article:
- Adrenaline will most likely cause you to speed up in presentations.
- By paying attention to your audience, you'll have better "presence."
- Breathe diaphragmatically and build in pauses to get off the speed-track.
- Using inclusive language will also help you stay present and less stressed.
- Taping yourself is good training for slowing your speech rate down.