Vocal Lessons Article

#14: I'm Talking And I Can't Slow Down


Have you ever had to listen to someone speak at breakneck speed? It can feel like a non-stop verbal attack! And yet, speed-talking is a pitfall that many speakers encounter in their quest to become engaging communicators. Attaining an impossible pace in your own speech is exhausting and nerve racking – not to mention potentially rude. There are several reasons why individuals tend to speak too quickly and continue to speed up the pace of their speech. Luckily, there are some very definite action steps you can take to slow yourself down and greatly improve how you communicate to the world.

The realization that you are talking too fast is frightening. You can feel like you have no idea how you got to this place (or, rather, pace) and you certainly don’t know how slow down the run-away train in your mouth! Most individuals have experienced some, if not all, of the following reasons for fast speech.

First, we have nervousness and anxiety. The “nerves” generated by having to give a business presentation, participate in a conference call or simply converse with an intimidating superior can be enough to trigger the speeding up process. Once it begins, it can be very hard to get back under control.

The second reason people talk too fast is the fear of not having enough breath. Regrettably, this is often a very real, physical condition brought on by number one on the list, as nervousness causes shallow, uncontrolled breathing that is inadequate to support proper speech. Pushing too much air at the start of a phrase or sentence, called “bursting”, is another speech condition that causes individuals to increase their rate of speech.

A third cause for speed-talking is the need to prove your knowledge and complete understanding of a particular subject. Whether the motivation is to convince your listeners with a barrage of information (which is likely to be lost on your audience as it whizzes by) or to demonstrate your intellectual superiority regarding the topic at hand (which many listeners will find off-putting), rushing through your presentation is unlikely to win you either converts or admirers. And yet, many speakers try to accomplish this impossible task!

The next factor that can increase your pace is a general lack of varied intonation. Most people will acknowledge that the fastest way to lose any listener is to speak in the dreaded “monotone”. If you know you fall into this category, speeding up your pace may seem like the only choice you have to keep things exciting. And this is a vicious cycle – the more you speed, the more your intonation suffers, requiring you to go even faster to pep things up…and on and on.

The last common reason for fast speech is lack of preparation. Starting a speech, a phone call or a conversation on shaky ground can lead to a constant feeling of having to “catch up”. It is certainly true that you can never get that opening moment back – no matter how fast you speak.

Integrating improved speech habits into your communication style requires awareness, focus and diligence. The reasons for increased speech pace may vary; but each of the following action steps will benefit anyone who knows they need to slow down their rate of speech.

Awareness of proper breathing and breath support is one of the most important action steps you can take. Effective breathing will help to mitigate the anxiety that can impact the pace of your speech, both on a physical and emotional level. Take the time to breathe before each phrase. Once you become comfortable with using your breathing as an interpretive and regulatory tool, you can increase the space between breaths. Exposing your breathing will not only make you appear more poised and thoughtful but you will have the “vocal fuel” to deliver your message in a definitive manner.

Good breath support will also allow you to explore varying your intonation. The pitch, placement, rhythm and cadence of your speech make up your intonation. Read many different types of writing out loud in an attempt to increase your creative vocal range. Think outside the “work related material” box. Reading fiction books, magazine articles and ads, even mimicking television and radio ads can be fun and effective means toward losing your monotone.

Preparation will go a long way to slowing down any fast talker. Make sure you prepare the first two to three lines of your presentation or phone conversation. Speak these lines out loud until you can deliver them with sincerity and authority – at a normal pace. You can very rarely know exactly where an interaction will go but you can take charge of how it will begin! It is equally important to develop and rehearse a strong closing. This should be a summation of the message you are attempting to communicate.

Remember that every time you speak to either an individual or a group, you need to give them the space to truly listen. The acquisition of knowledge requires a perspective on the spoken information both from you and from your listeners. Slowing down your pace is crucial to allowing a point of view to develop. When you speak at a listener-friendly pace, you stop just talking and start truly communicating.

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Paul Geiger

Paul Geiger

Associate Speech Coach at New York Speech Coaching