Speech Skill: Pace
The Speech Problem
Speaking too quickly is one of the most common speech problems perhaps because almost all of us tend to speed up our speech when were stressed or excited. And when are we not stressed when were 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 drawls out syllables to extremes.
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 youre 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 thats either too fast or too slow is that it interferes with communication. When you speak too quickly, you literally blow away your listener. He cant mentally keep up with you and will quickly stop trying. While a small part of your message may get through, most wont. When you speak too slowly, your listener has too much time for processing, and the mind either locks on how irritatingly slowly youre speaking or wanders off to more interesting things.
If you hear phrases such as Could you repeat that? often, or often encounter glazed looks, youre 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, (as you did in Speech Lesson 1), 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, youre 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 dont 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 semi-colon as a pause twice as long as a comma.
The Benefits of Improving Your Speech Pace
When you speak at an appropriate pace, your listeners will:
- Be more interested in what youre saying and more attentive;
- Be more likely to comprehend the message youre communicating.
Speech Lesson 4 Homework Assignment
Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day this week to work on your voice pace.
Once youve worked through the exercises on and linked to this page, I want you to 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 I want you to start working on it right away, too. Start visualizing the punctuation before you speak. Whether youre on the phone or talking to someone in person, before you say what youre going to say, see the sentences, complete with their periods and commas, and then say it. If you can master this, the pace at which you speak will slow down considerably even if youre stressed.
And once again, tell your speech monitor what speech skill youre working on this week, and get him or her to warn you when youre speaking too quickly or too slowly.
In the next speech lesson, youll be taking a look at buzzwords and slang and how they can destroy communication.