Most of us speak too fast. We get caught up in what we’re saying, we’re anxious about getting all the information out, we don’t want to lose our train of thought, and sometimes we simply want to get our presentation over with!

A comfortable speaking pace to listen to is about 120 words per minute. When we’re nervous or excited, we tend to speak faster. While a faster pace can come across as enthusiastic, speaking too quickly can be very challenging for your audience to listen to. If you speak too fast, your audience may stop listening or miss your point. Especially if your audience does not speak your “language.”

When you’re speaking to an international group, you will almost always have some people in the audience who do not share your native language. By slowing down your pace, you will help the audience interpret what you are saying in their native or stronger language, if necessary. This is also true when you switch languages mid-speech, like when you throw in an English business term (“networking”, “power up”, “agile”, “pivot”), into a speech in French. Here again, you should slow down, carefully enunciate that word, and allow the audience to also switch language gears with you and ensure that they are following your logic.

Every area of business (and of life!) comes with its own set of jargon and technical words.

When you live and breath a subject day in and day out, you tend to forget how the words you’re using are not familiar to most people.

Using this jargon might show that you know what you’re talking about and that you are competent in your field of expertise, but it can also totally isolate, intimidate, or lose your audience. For example, if you are an IT professional speaking to upper management about migrating a project to the Cloud, you should minimize unnecessary jargon and acronyms. For those words that you need management to understand, slow down when you say them. Repeat them and/or define them, if necessary. This way the less technical members of the audience won’t feel stupid and will be more likely to follow your argument. Upper management will be more likely to support your project if they understand it!

Speaking at a pace that allows your audience to really understand you becomes even more crucial when speaking on the phone or on camera. These settings present additional challenges for the audience. Remember to slow down! You can even ask your audience if your pace works for them or (in a smaller group) ask them to repeat a point if they miss it.

By slowing down your speaking speed, you give your audience time to really absorb what you are saying. Slow down so that your audience can follow your logic, “get” your key message and be able to act on your call to action.

Pace is just one element of vocal variety—or the way we bring interest into the voice. Explore the essentials of vocal variety and find out how to bring more colour to your voice through combining pitch, pace, power, and pause.

1 Comment

  1. And I might add… slow down and enunciate when you’re NOT speaking your own native language.. your accent may make comprehension difficult for your listeners…

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