Most presenters suffer from rushed speaking as a result of nervousness. For an audience to fully digest what you’re saying, you should aim to speak at about 140 words per minute (WPM). For example, skilled presenter Steve Jobs speaks at 158 WPM, while an auctioneer speaks at a rate of 250-400 WPM. So how can you slow down your inner auctioneer when you present? Here are a few tips:
Find Your WPM
Not sure if you even 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.
Memorizing gives you a reason to race through information, so avoid it. An unskilled Shakespearean actor will do the same; rushing through the memorized text as if they were reading a grocery list. If you must memorize text, take a lesson from actor Jonathan Slinger who plays an incredibly slow Hamlet in the RSC 2013 production.
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 help you distinguish a new section.
Use a Metronome to Rehearse
There are several free metronome apps available 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. For instance, begin with 100 clicks per minute to get a feel for your pace, and adjust accordingly.
Seek outside inspiration to become a slower speaker overall. 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 (and well-paced) public speakers to emulate.
This is a common technique for non-English speakers working 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 rate of speaking increases comprehension, makes you sound authoritative, and helps you appear calmer in front of your audience. 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.”
Question: How can you practice to eliminate fast-paced speech?
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