I once experienced a scientific presentation that was delivered in what felt like light speed. I tried my hardest to follow along, but no matter how hard I tried, with each passing minute, I found myself more and more lost. Eventually the presentation ended, and to this day, I could not tell you what was discussed. What I experienced that day was a poor choice in rate of speech.
Scientists have proven that humans can understand speech at a rate of 400 words per minute, but does that mean we can comprehend at the same rate? As a presenter, it’s important to understand how to pace your presentation in such a way that your audience doesn’t just hear the words but also comprehends and absorbs the information as well.
When developing the pace of your presentation, there are 3 questions you should ask yourself to ensure you get maximum engagement from your audience.
What is the most comfortable pace for me?
While your audience may be able to comprehend your speech at 400 words per minute, that doesn’t mean you will feel comfortable speaking at that rate. By selecting a rate that is either too fast or too slow for your comfort, your speech will feel awkward and unnatural. Not to mention, you’ll most likely feel uncomfortable with the pacing which will lead to more mistakes and a weaker delivery.
What feels natural for my content?
In many ways, your content will dictate your presentation’s pace. If your content is designed to be eager and excited, then select a faster pace to build passion and intrigue; however, if you are looking to communicate a somber message, use a slower pace to convey emotion and authenticity instead.
Who is my audience?
Considering who you are speaking to is a vital key in selecting your rate of speech. If you are presenting to an audience of CEOs, you may want to consider a faster rate of speech since their time is limited, and if your presentation feels like it is lagging, you may end up losing them before you even start. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re speaking to an older audience, you may want to slow down a bit to help increase engagement with your information.
So, what’s the answer? When considering your rate of speech, the right answer is variety! As a presenter, you must learn to vary your speech’s pace based on the three questions above. Embracing the right pace in the right moment will help you to wow every audience in every setting.
Here are 3 exercises to help develop variety in your speech pace.
Practice reading children’s books.
Children’s books have a specific tempo and cadence to them. By reading through them, you will strengthen your ability to develop a comfortable and rhythmic cadence. This exercise will give you great insight into how words flow together which can be implemented in your presentation. Along with developing overall cadence and flow, reading children’s books will help you develop your storytelling abilities.
Read factual reports.
As a presenter, it’s your job to transform boring facts and figures into exciting reasons your audience should buy in to what you are sharing. By practicing reading a factual document, you can see what speech rate is ideal to bring those statistics to life. Record yourself during this exercise so you can listen to yourself and get a glimpse into what your audience will experience.
Practice with a partner.
When it comes to understanding and developing the perfect rate of speech, it’s always good to have some help. Practice your presentation with a partner using different rates of speech. Ask for their opinion on the different options you choose. When selecting your partner, choose someone who also needs to practice their rate of speech, because sometimes the best way to learn and develop is to coach someone else through the exercise.
Listen to a variety of presenters.
If you are looking to develop variety in your speech rate, then you must have variety in the people who influence you. It’s easy to fall into a rut of listening to the same speakers and people that we connect with, but developing variety means adding new speakers to your list. Consider listening to speakers you don’t necessarily connect with to help develop a more rounded speech pattern.
If your audience can’t understand you, they can’t engage with you. By finding the proper rate of speech, you will not only help your audience to follow along, but you will equip them to retain what you are sharing. So the next time you step out to present, remember that one size does not fit all, and choosing the right rate for your specific audience will change the game for your next presentation.
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