Speaking too quickly is one of the most common speech problems—perhaps because almost all of us tend to speed up our speech when we’re stressed or excited. And when are we not stressed when we’re working? Making a cold call, meeting a new contact, working on a project with a deadline—all of these situations are stressful and cause all kinds of physiological responses, including speeding up our speech.
Some people, however, are genuine “motormouths”—people who always speak rapidly. Speaking too slowly is much less common, but believe it or not, there are people who tend to speak naturally with a rate of speed that leaves gaps between words and draws out syllables to extremes.
Speaking at an Appropriate Pace
The trick to speaking at an appropriate pace is remembering that you need to speak at a rate that allows your listener to understand what you’re saying. Listening is not a one-step process; we have to physically hear what is said and then translate language into meaning.
If we speak too quickly, this vital second step of the process is lost. Like expression, the natural rate at which you speak is part of your speech signature. The problem with speaking at a pace that’s either too fast or too slow is that it interferes with communication.
When you speak too quickly, you literally “blow away” your listener. He can’t mentally keep up with you and will quickly stop trying. While a small part of your message may get through, most won’t. When you speak too slowly, your listener has too much time for processing, and the mind either locks on how irritatingly slowly you’re speaking or wanders off to more interesting things.
If you hear phrases such as “Could you repeat that?” often, or often encounter glazed looks, you’re probably a person who usually speaks too quickly or too slowly.
Slowing Your Speech Down
Focusing on our enunciation when we speak is one good way to slow down our speech. When we focus on enunciating clearly, we force ourselves to stop slurring and eliding syllables when we speak.
Another way to slow down our speech is to concentrate on phrasing. Oral speech, just like written speech, is composed of phrases and sentences. In fact, the punctuation of written speech is simply a set of sign posts to tell us how the written information should be phrased.
For instance, when I wrote: “If you hear phrases such as “Could you repeat that?” often, or often encounter glazed looks, you’re probably a person who usually speaks too quickly or too slowly,” the punctuation dictates that when you read or say this sentence, you are going to pause briefly after the question mark, pause again after the word "often" because of the comma, and again after "looks." The sentence should be read the same way, whether you read it silently or read it out loud.
But people who speak too quickly tend to ignore phrasing entirely. They don’t pause for commas, hyphens, question marks, or even periods, jamming all the phrases together. Therefore, concentrating on the phrasing can really help slow down speedy speakers.
Speech Exercise: Practicing Phrasing
Go back to the start of this speech lesson and read it out loud, using the punctuation to guide your phrasing. Think of a period or semicolon as a pause twice as long as a comma.
Benefits of Improving Your Speech Pace
When you speak at an appropriate pace, your listeners will:
- Be more interested in what you’re saying and more attentive;
- Be more likely to comprehend the message you’re communicating.
Practicing at Home
Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day this week to work on your voice pace.
Once you’ve worked through the speech exercises on this page, continue your oral reading program throughout the week. Fiction or non-fiction will work, as long as the piece is properly punctuated. As you read out loud, concentrate on your enunciation and following the phrasing as directed by the punctuation. Those of you who enjoy a challenge will benefit from dipping into some literary classics, such as novels by Austen, Hardy, Dickens, and Thackeray. The sentence structure will provide a great phrasing workout.
The next step is much harder, but start working on it right away, too. Start visualizing the punctuation before you speak. Whether you’re on the phone or talking to someone in person, before you say what you’re going to say, “see” the sentences, complete with their periods and commas, and then say it. If you can master this, the pace of which you speak will slow down considerably—even if you’re stressed.
And once again, tell your speech monitor what speech skill you’re working on this week, and get him or her to warn you when you’re speaking too quickly or too slowly.