President John F. Kennedy is considered by most historians and rhetoricians to be one of the greatest speakers among U. S. Presidents. One trait of his speaking that would be a liability for most speakers is the speed with which he spoke. Kennedy could speak at about 350 words per minute, and he still holds the world record for rate of speaking. During a speech in 1961, he spoke 327 words in just one minute. His speed was part of his energetic delivery which contributed to his effectiveness. For most speakers, that is not the case. It usually appears that the speaker is in a hurry to get through the presentation and sit down. In addition, it can be embarrassing to find that you are several minutes short of the time it took in your practice sessions.
Here are some suggestions to avoid speaking too rapidly as you address an audience. Look for a reaction from members of the audience to what you are saying. Becoming more conscious of your audience instead of thinking about yourself will help you slow down naturally. The nodding of the head or the look of concentration will let you know that you are getting your ideas across and will help you focus on communicating with your audience. If there is a puzzled look, you can give a little more information and become more concerned with your message.
Another way to slow down is to pause briefly at the end of a thought. Counting to three mentally is a mechanical way to give your audience a moment to ponder what you have just said. Find two or three places in your speech where the pause is very useful in emphasizing a point and mark your notes to remind you to pause at those places in your presentation. Pausing for effect can regain the attention of the audience member who may be thinking of other things as you speak.
Finally, take a step between points. Just the physical movement will slow down your delivery. When you move from the introduction to the body of the speech is a good time to take a step toward your audience. When you start to tell a story is another appropriate place to take a step. Certainly moving to the screen to illustrate a point from your visual is also a good opportunity to move.
Consciously incorporating these tips will help you soon to be doing them automatically; then your audience will not be distracted by your frantic delivery and will more easily understand your message.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively.
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(859) 441-6520 or email info@SBoyd.com