October 1, 2013 10:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I teach myself to speak more slowly?

All my life, I've spoken quickly. I have noticed in the last couple years that it's getting worse, particularly when I feel like I have something interesting to say in a conversation - I'll get my sentence out, then have to repeat it a couple times because someone will say "you talked way too fast, I didn't understand what you were saying!"

I have known this was a problem for a while, but I'm starting to get really self-conscious about it, to the point where I'm starting to not speak hardly at all except in short, confirming phrases ("yep, I agree" etc) when I'm out with friends, and would love to teach myself to speak more slowly.

Have you taught yourself to speak more slowly? How did you do it?
posted by pdb to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Pay attention to your own mental punctuation. Take a half-second pause for any commas you'd use in writing, and a full stop (count a full second) between sentences.
posted by xingcat at 10:40 AM on October 1, 2013

Focus on your enunciation because usually the problem is you jam all the words together and aren't articulating all the syllables. My wife's a fast talker and when she gets going it's not (just) the speed, it's that all the syllables tend to run together. Focusing on your enunciation will also force you to slow down since you'll be paying attention to it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:44 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Let out a small breath, quietly between sentences. Your lips needn't even part that much - and start your sentence about midway through. This was a speech therapy exercise given to me as a kid with a pretty substantial stuttering problem. The idea was to slow things down a little, and it mostly worked.
posted by jquinby at 10:45 AM on October 1, 2013

Volunteer to be a language partner for an English language learner. It will give you a way to practice enunciation without feeling stupid and as a bonus, you'll be helping someone else!

I have a few friends who do a lot of work abroad or in communities where they don't speak the language. They enunciate very clearly and speak so slowly you'd think it was a speech impediment. It is because they're so used to speaking to people who won't understand them if they don't slow down.
posted by amandabee at 10:53 AM on October 1, 2013

Best answer: Think about each word and take pains to pronounce them exactly, without slurring or contraction. Pause where a period would be.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:00 AM on October 1, 2013

This will sound crazy but don't just laugh it off: Get a tongue piercing. That will give you about three weeks of having to talk and eat slowly, and three weeks is long enough to start a habit. Also, in case you're concerned, tongue piercings are painless.
posted by janey47 at 11:05 AM on October 1, 2013

I imagine my Dad. He has severe dyslexia and when I was a kid... he would always... read... very slowly. When I... was a kid... I would tell him... to read... faster. So... he would... read even... slower... just because... he loved... the... game.

When I was teaching English as a second language and found myself tired and rambling too much, I'd try and channel my Dad and speak like him reading (but not quite so slowly, but enough for me to... feel like... I was... reading slowly). But he doesn't read the words slowly, more he put gaps in there, and as he has a mixed antipodean accent where the pitch goes up and down.

My Dad isn't your Dad? No problem! My Dad's voice is pretty much the slightly more New Zealand version of Clive James.
posted by jujulalia at 11:07 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I picked this up somewhere but in teaching English abroad, I tell students to cut your words. Imagine what you're saying is on paper and the words need to be clear and distinct enough to be separated.

Also, think about if you're speaking to people or at them. Is your point necessary? Are you answering their concern or questioning their premise? Is it a 'well, actually' situation? These thoughts help me temper my need to talk.

When you find yourself doing it, stop yourself and make a softhearted comment about it. Don't be so hard on yourself- just being aware of a foible is a great step towards improvement!!
posted by maya at 11:11 AM on October 1, 2013

This is going to sound horrible... I had the same problem and found that the speed of speaking I use when talking to my very young son was actually much closer to normal than my typical rhythm. It felt awful at first, like I was being condescending or patronizing. But really, my internal calibration for talking was just so overclocked, my idea of slowing things down ridiculously actually only brought me to normal.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:17 AM on October 1, 2013

Don't use the tone like you're speaking to a child, obviously. I'm not saying that. Just the speed.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2013

Best answer: What DirtyOldTown said. I'm a very fast talker too, and I've discovered (through recording myself when I was teaching) that when I think I'm talking llllliiiiiikkkkeeee tttthiiiiisss, it sounds like the speed at which other people talk; when I talk at my usual speed, it's lightning fast. It feels wrong or like play-acting to slow myself down that much, but it's much closer to the way other people speak. If I think about every word as I say it, instead of just spitting out the whole sentence, other people can understand me much better.

Are you also a fast processor? I am, which means I often assume that other people are as well. But my quick speaking overwhelms people who need a minute to process (especially when I'm asking questions, like at work or something) so I've found that making myself ask my question slowly, then pausing and counting to five so they can have a chance to process and respond or ask for clarification, has helped everybody.
posted by SeedStitch at 11:44 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Put your whole sentence together and say it to yourself in your head before you start it. Then try to make it as precisely that sentence as possible, almost like you're reading it out of a book that you've never read before.
posted by Etrigan at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2013

Agreeing with Etrigan. I'm in graduate school now thinking about the academic job market, but I'm a very "messy," unprofessional speaker - lots of likes and ums and disjointed sentences, and I also talk way too fast. By concentrating on the first point - attempting to speak entirely in grammatical sentences and even paragraphs, and cutting out filler and trying to make myself sound, well, 'smart' - I am making some progress in slowing down my natural speaking speed to a more appropriate level. It's hard but worthwhile - it's a very satisfying intellectual accomplishment to speak a sentence or paragraph off-the-cuff that you would be proud to have written down, and the challenge of doing so can offset the boredom or frustration that sets in when you're talking slower than your normal speed. In other words, I guess I'm saying to use the extra time you have to "edit" your speech - not in a way that's pretentious or unnatural but that actually makes you a better speaker than you would be otherwise.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:19 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm also a fast talker and something that has helped me a lot is to train myself to use shorter sentences and to solidly pause between each sentence. At first it felt weird, but I've gotten so many compliments on how professional and polished and easy-to-follow I am since switching.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:19 PM on October 1, 2013

Response by poster: Seedstitch - yep, I'm a fast processor, and I think that's a big part of the problem. Thanks for the tips.

Janey - not my style, but I definitely get where the suggestion comes from.

Thanks for the great tips, all, these are very helpful.
posted by pdb at 12:28 PM on October 1, 2013

I work with kids similar to you as a speech therapist! We use pacing boards a lot, which can be as low tech as a bunch of circles drawn on a piece of paper. You practice pointing to a word each time you say a word out loud. It is a visual and very concrete way to teach yourself to focus on one word at a time and slow down. As an adult, it might sound and feel more natural to practice this and go sentence-by-sentence first. You can google image search for "pacing board" or "stuttering pacing board" for examples.

Usually it is easier to practice changing your rate by reading first, and then leveling up to conversation. If you practice rate changes with reading, you have the punctuation and breaks and words literally written in for you--you just have to follow the words at a reduced rate. It's much trickier to do it in conversation, where you are concentrating on the words you want to say AND the other person's reaction AND waiting for your turn to talk AND monitoring your excitement about a topic.

Also, you might want to look into some strategies online for "cluttering." It's related to stuttering, or fluency of speech, but it's characterized by speaking with a fast rate of speech and feeling like OTHER people are the issue (why can't they keep up?!) rather than feeling shame or embarrassment about how you speak, like the stereotype of some people who stutter. (I'm NOT saying you are a clutterer or have a speech issue--just that you might find some of these strategies helpful and that "cluttering" would be a good search term.)

And I envy your fast processing, for what it's worth! I'm naturally a bit pokey myself.
posted by shortyJBot at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2013

I have this "problem" too (I tell people sometimes in jest, that they simply listen too slowly) and have to slow myself down to speak in court and at depositions. It is TORTURE. The most frustrating is when I have made what I feel is a concerted effort to speak at a glacial pace, only to be told to slow down by the (usually aged) listener. Since I do need to be understood, I have worked on that for a few years and can now get by most days without scolding. The technique I use is not to focus so much on slowing each individual word or even clause/sentence, because it feels so weird, but to stop for longer after each clause or complete sentence. That way, you can still speak a litte more quickly maybe than most people but you are still giving them time to process what you have said. I also make an effort to speak very grammatically (because seeing your words on record later can be horrifying if not), which helps slow things a bit.
posted by Pomo at 2:42 PM on October 1, 2013

You could also try Toastmasters. Both my brothers swear by what it did for their speaking. The angle is more about being comfortable doing public speaking, but I would think your situation would still fit in (most great public speakers enunciate and speak slowly).
posted by juliagulia at 7:12 PM on October 1, 2013

Speaking for myself, it helps to try to visualize (mentally vocalize?) speaking in the subtle, modest style of the actor Donald Pleasence. Of course, I don't sound anything like him, but that's what I aspire towards.
posted by ovvl at 9:02 PM on October 1, 2013

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