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If you've ever been called a motor-mouth, you'll know it's because the words rocket out of your mouth.
That may be fun and exciting to listen to for a while but when your speech stops being stimulating and starts being uncomfortable, ears switch off.
Slow word-by-very-slow-word turns ears off too.
People wait-and-wait for you to get on with it, eventually losing interest.
The solution to the speaking too fast or too slowly problem is not the middle ground. Rather it is to vary speaking rate in direct response to your audience and content needs.
The thread of a speech is like a road.
Picture in your mind the the layout of your speech.
You'll have an introduction, followed by a series of main ideas with supporting examples or illustrations. To finish there'll be a conclusion.
Now think of the thread (theme, main idea) linking it altogether.
It is similar to a road. You are taking your audience on a journey.
Your speech (the subject or content) is the vehicle carrying them along and your mouth (how you deliver it) is the driver.
As the driver you make choices.
You can whirl them through so fast the scenery blurs. While you're busy negotiating a series of complicated hair pin bends at full throttle, they're gazing out out the back window trying to work out what they've missed and where they are. One by one your listeners get dizzy. Then they close off their ears and sit quietly waiting for the ride to stop.
Or by contrast you can proceed so cautiously your passengers want to get out and walk.
If you were a responsive driver you would be continually adjusting your speed to meet the road conditions (speech content) and the needs of your passengers (audience).
There would be places to slow and perhaps even stop for the audience to catch their breath. There would also be places where a quick burst of acceleration would give an exciting thrill.
Read a children's story silently several times to familiarize yourself with the flow. Go through it again noting which passages would suit taking more quickly and which should be slower. Then read it aloud and listen carefully to how speed alters interpretation. Repeat the exercise altering your speed over particular passages, noting the differences.
Record yourself if possible doing this and all the following exercises. Save all the versions you do. You'll then have them to refer back to. Recording takes out the guess work as you can hear exactly what you did, rather than what you imagined you did. It doesn't lie!
Pick an information loaded report from a newspaper or magazine.
Go through it silently to familiarize yourself with the flow of material and then read it aloud. Make a note of which passages need careful or slow reading and which can be taken at a faster rate. Re-read aloud until you feel you have the mix of speeds right.
As an extension exercise read the report as if you were reading for an audience who knew nothing about the subject. Note what changes you made and why.
Record and time yourself delivering a speech of your own at your current 'normal' speaking rate.
Note the time down. Now go through again having marked passages for slower or faster treatment. Note the new time and your new insights.
Practice with a partner. Go through any of the exercises above. Explain what you doing and ask them to listen for effectiveness. Get them to note examples where you did well and where you needed to alter your speech rate and why.
Listen to speakers you admire. They could be radio presenters, preachers ... anybody accustomed to speaking in public. Note the different rates of speech they use over the course of their presentation and the effectiveness and experiment with them for yourself.
Read or recite part of a text you know well quickly (or slowly). If you can record yourself, do so. If not, listen and note the effect it has on you. If you've recorded yourself, play it back. Ask yourself where was the speed effective? Where was it detrimental? Mark those places on your script. Read again incorporating your changes.
And lastly, be patient with yourself. Changing your normal speaking rate is challenging. The habitual speed of words leaving our mouths is deeply ingrained. As children we are very effective sponges. We soak up everything around us, including the speech rates used by our significant adults. What was their normal speech speed becomes ours. It feels natural, comfortable and right!
Altering rate is not impossible but it does require awareness, effort and PRACTICE!
Giving yourself a flexible speech rate is only PART of the skill set used by a successful speaker. You can put more in your tool box.
Remember the image of your mouth as the driver? When your tongue is high revving, it's accelerating away. When you're stuck in first gear, it's crawling forward one little word at a time.
Now you've got control over rate, it's time to turn your attention to the brakes. Skilled use of the brakes are the key to effective silence. Find out how to use the Power of the Pause.
Did you know the average 'natural' (ordinary conversational speech) speaking rate ranges between approximately 130-200 words per minute?
Speaking rate has regional as well as national variations. Listen to what is regarded as 'normal' to make any adjustments needed before you speak in public.
To find out more click speech rate.