How to slow down your speech when presenting (so it becomes second nature)

You’re nervous. You take to the stage, clicker in hand.

All eyes are on you as the room falls silent in anticipation.

You’re going to get through this presentation quicker than a tomato through a blender.

So you fire away with a machine gun delivery omitting silences, bayoneting words, belting through the content as you leap through slides, charge across pauses, and bypass the small stuff like breathing. Getting to the end is all that matters.

 

And you’ve survived.  Well done.

The only thing is, no-one’s taken in a word. They didn’t have the time.

They might still be in the room but what you’ve sacrificed through speeding through your presentation is the opportunity to:

  • commit your audience to think differently about a matter;
  • get others to invest, time and resources;
  • establish a sense of presence and authority.

In his book, ‘Talk like TED’, Carmine Gallo states a conversational pace brings people in.  Looking at some of the most successful speakers on Ted.com, he ascertained the optimum pace for delivery.

As a guide, a professional auctioneer is about 240 words per minute.  Henry Kissinger, who had a reputation for being a profoundly boring speaker was 90 wpm.

The sweet spot is 190 wpm as Bryan Stevenson’s TED speech demonstrates here.

This exercise below will help normalise a slower pace. It’ll then feel strange to rush it. Slowing your speech down also makes the experience feel more natural, like a conversation.

That’s actually what a presentation is: a conversation with one person talking for most of the time.

And that you can surely do. Here’s how to optimise your speech rate:

Exercise for slowing speech down:

Here are 78 words, which should take you around 30 seconds. Don’t fret if you’re a few seconds on either side of that number.

“Once upon a time, there was a king who never wore shoes. He was forever bruising and scraping his royal feet. One day, completely exasperated with this problem, he turned to his trusty minister and ordered: “I want you to carpet the entire kingdom by tomorrow morning or it’s off with your head!  The poor minister sat up half the night thinking about this impossible task, knowing full well that he would surely lose his head come morning.”

  1. Read the text into a voice recorder
  2. After a couple of sentences, exaggerate the vowel sounds, deliberately dragging them out,  as if you were speaking in slow motion. Here’s what it should sound like:
  3. After a sentence or two, return to your normal pace of speech.
  4. Repeat step 2)
  5. Repeat step 3)
  6. Stop the exercise after 3 minutes.
  7. Play back the voice recording.  Listen to how the normal pace you began with compares to the new normal you end with.

 

Most people notice the difference after the first or second time.   If you don’t notice a difference, ensure that you’re really dragging out the vowel sounds and exaggerating the mouth opening.

Repeat this 5 times a week for 2 weeks and you’ll find a new, slower normal speech rate becomes a habit.

By slowing down, you’ll bring your audience in, and carry them along with your message.

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