We've all heard speakers who talk so fast we are left in the dust. Listeners may end up ten words behind, especially if the topic is complex or unfamiliar. In sales, a rapid rate of speech can result in a lost potential sale.
People talk so fast because others around them do this, because they think erroneously that others will not take the time to listen to them, and because they do not realize the listeners are struggling. In some cultures, speaking quickly is a sign of professional competence.
The average speech rate in the mid-Atlantic states is 120 - 140 words per minute. Ît is faster in some places such as New York City, and slower in other locales. What matters is not how many words a speaker can get out, but how many (well-chosen) words are understood by the listener.
Speech rate becomes a problem in any location when the listener does not understand. The speaker either may have to repeat himself, or some information gets ignored. In a healthcare setting, this can be a real danger as instructions may get confused and patient compliance may slip. Young children and senior citizens may also process information more slowly.
If you are listening to a fast speaker, and do not understand the information, ask for the confusing parts to be repeated if possible. Tell the speaker exactly what was unclear, such as “the part after “Ben?s department" “, or “the name of the muscle". Make sure the speaker knows you want to understand.
If you are the fast speaker, and you know this is a problem, start by listing the reasons you want to slow down. Maybe you want a promotion, but need clearer speech. Possibly your colleagues are getting frustrated with your speech. Perhaps you are tired of repeating yourself. Possibly phone calls are not returned because others cannot understand your telephone number or name.
Start by taking some slow, deep breaths. Then count slowly to ten, prolonging the vowels if needed. Then say your ten digit telephone number at that slow rate. Visualize someone writing it down from a telephone message. Can he write it correctly at that pace?
Try saying some basic sentences at that slow pace, such as “I see a _" or “_ are great !" Then slowly recite a shopping list. Can you slightly prolong the vowels? Other ways to think of it are to go at a 25 mph pace with your words, or visualize yourself rocking in a rocking chair, slowly talking.
Often your listener will not even realize what you are doing. You will not sound “stupid", just clearer.
Talk about a topic that is not important to you, such as a minor interest or a description of a person you casually noticed earlier. Speak at this more relaxed rate. Tape yourself if possible, and listen to it.
The real test comes when speaking about a topic that is important to you, such as family or work. Can you still maintain this slower rate, or at least use it when you notice the listener is confused?
Enlist some others to help you by discretely indiciating when you are going too fast again. This may happen when making a presentation or when under other stress. Change does not happen overnight; be patient.
If the tips above are not enough, you may benefit from professional speech coaching. Search for an expert who has worked with others with similar problems. Ask about qualifications as well as experience.
You deserve to be easily understood. Be proactive and start today!
Katie Schwartz, MA, CCC-SLP, Director of Business Speech Improvement (http://www.BusinessSpeechImprovement.com ) offers intensive, customized coaching in diction, rate, sales communication, accent modification, and many other topics. A speaker and the author of several professional books, she has been mentioned in the wall St. Journal, USA Today, Selling Power! and other publications.