The recent election cycle reminds us of an issue that many presenters have—they try to cram too much information into the time allotted to them. Candidates for office, media anchors, reporters, analysts and pundits alike often run into this issue, as do many presenters we know.
It’s natural for someone to speed up their speaking pace when they get excited or have a lot to say. The problem is that from the listener’s perspective, the faster someone talks, the more difficult it becomes to listen to and understand them.
We notice a few different tendencies that fall under our definition of speaking too quickly for your listeners to follow:
Too many words, too little time. Sometimes this is intentional—check out the world’s fastest talker. Sometimes the heat of the moment causes the speaker to speed up their delivery beyond comprehension—watch when a reporter at a press conference had to ask actor Jesse Eisenberg to repeat his answer, and to speak much more slowly. And see how CNN’s John King, who typically gets so intense when talking about election maps, speeds up his delivery so much that it’s hard to process any of his thoughts. It’s hard for anyone to truly understand speakers who talk too fast.
Run-on delivery. Some speakers run their words and sentences together, without pausing, which causes several issues. Listeners look for breaks in delivery to give them a moment to process an idea or thought. Also, every speaker needs to breathe once in a while, so if they don’t intentionally pause for a breath, they will unintentionally pause at the wrong spots, or use non-words where pauses should be. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer tends toward this type of delivery problem.
Insufficient pauses. Sometimes speakers use pauses, but they don’t pause often enough or for long enough. In her big national press conference the day after last week’s election, Democratic congressional leader Nancy Pelosi spoke to the media and to the nation. While not conventionally a fast-talker, she has a tendency to run through punctuation, which means some of her most important thoughts don’t really sink in. We’d coach her to use longer pauses more frequently in her delivery.
In all three instances, the best way to avoid speaking too quickly is to pause much more often, and for longer moments. One technique is to make sure that your audience can “hear” your punctuation. If you would have a comma in your sentence, pause. At the end of a sentence, pause. Try this: for a comma, semicolon or quotation mark, pause for one beat. For a period or colon, pause for two beats. For an exclamation point or question mark, pause for three beats.
And if you would consider using TWO exclamation points, then extend your pause by even another beat or two. The best speakers we known routinely use long pauses to let their ideas sink in. So adjust your pace by pausing early and often—your audience will appreciate it!