Becoming a slow(er) talker
April 24, 2016 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I talk fast. Very fast. Sometimes, when stressed or on low sleep, VERY fast indeed. This must stop! My attempts at speaking more slowly, unfortunately, have often verged on self-parody in the opposite direction: far too slow, or like an English actor doing a bad American accent. What are some good ways to slow down my speech and avoid these pitfalls? Thanks!
posted by Going To Maine to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Mindfulness meditation. Start with a structured mindfulness practice, and expand it to being aware of how you are talking.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:43 AM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can get teleprompter software for your phone/tablet that will run at a specific words-per-minute rate, if you want to practice speaking at different rates to feel what it feels like: PromptSmart.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

2nding the teleprompter. Coming at this from an acting background. We'd use all sorts of aids like that to get a character's speed, inflection, etc. down to a habit.

Don't try to slow down. Time friends speaking and determine their average word per minute. Of the ones whose speaking rate is in the range you want set a prompter to that speed and start trying it to get the feel of the cadence.

Once you feel that you've got it more habituated try recording yourself in normal conversations and then play it back counting your speed.

Basically, learn it like a new dance move, or like a sports action. Be systematic.
posted by BrooksCooper at 9:49 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of it is about breath control--you're (for values of "you" that mean "me") pushing to get an entire complicated thought out on one breath, which means that you talk too fast and that you get harder to understand at the end as your breath fails. Tension makes this worse because you're breathing more shallowly to begin with. So I would look at (a) the usual actor breathing-improving exercises, which can help with how much air is available and (b) classes on public presentation, which ask you to think about how to "chunk" your sentences (introducing natural pauses between semantic units) and give you a chance to breathe in between.

But, yeah, the struggle is real, and also lifelong. I have seen improvements, especially in public speaking/presentations when I'm more consciously focused on my delivery, but I'm still notorious for it. Good luck!
posted by praemunire at 9:49 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

scrittore has it. Your ear doesn't read the speed of speech correctly, so slowing down is absolutely going to sound wrong to your ears. I had the same problem and found that the solution was the consciously slowed down rhythm I used for children and ESL speakers. To my ears, it sounded phony and condescending. But that was because my ears were used to my own overly accelerated speech. People liked me better and understood me more at that pace.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:51 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been working on similar issues. Something that I find helps in the moment: When the setting allows it, if I catch myself speaking too quickly I'll often stop, say in a gentle self-deprecating way, "OK, I obviously just had too much coffee, let me slow down," take a deep breath, and then continue. I don't actually drink coffee, and it's usually anxiety (and habit) that's causing the fast speaking, but acknowledging that it's happening and seeing the (usually sympathetic) responses from my audience helps cut through a lot of the anxiety for me. Otherwise I can get caught up in the internal monologue loop of "Am I speaking too fast? Oh my god, I'm speaking too fast. Are people noticing? Can they even understand what I'm saying?" that just increases my anxiety and therefore my speaking rate. (I'm often presenting in more of a teaching way, though, where acknowledging my own flaws often makes it easier for the participants to relate to me and therefore can be a good thing; I'm not sure I'd use the same technique in presenting to higher-ups or in a hyper-competitive environment.)

We have a sales rep who comes into our office to give presentations and she often seems to do something similar, except she'll say variations on, "Oh, my gosh, I'm just so excited to be talking to you about this product!" I find that variation ingratiating and phony, but it might work if you're in a super-sale-y environment.
posted by lazuli at 10:52 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Brevity is great way to respect your listener. Talking too fast might be related to talking too much.

It's like writing the two-page paper you were assigned, but turning it in using 6-point font.
posted by Borborygmus at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

What helped me slow down, as a fast talking New Englander, was practicing reading out loud. I found it naturally slowed my speech because reading a word takes more time than thinking it.
posted by Ruki at 12:21 PM on April 24, 2016

As I get older, along with my cohort, we all appreciate slower speech, both to be able to hear you and, in several cases, to comprehend.

I tend to be a fast speaker, and after my stroke, my tang gets all tongueled up sometimes. Therapy taught the mantra: Pause, Plan, Say. Helps to focus my thoughts, choose vocabulary, and slow down speech.

Occasionally helps the problematic response that puts the foot in the mouth.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2016

My attempts at speaking more slowly, unfortunately, have often verged on self-parody in the opposite direction: far too slow, or like an English actor doing a bad American accent.

Yeah, I'll second scrittore's comment about whether or not this has been objectively verified.

I am also a very, very fast talker. When I consciously slow down, it feels like I'm going too slow, and it feels kind of awkward. But, when I get feedback from other people, it turns out they think I'm speaking at a perfectly normal pace, even if it feels SO SLOW to me.

So, if you haven't done so already, I'd recommend getting outside feedback. Find a patient friend whose opinion you trust, and try varying your speeds while chatting with them. You may very well find what feels too slow for you sounds just right to other people.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2016

Response by poster: FWIW, this has been subjectively verified by one person, other than myself, albeit over a few repeated trials. But that’s hardly a large sample.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:07 PM on April 24, 2016

As a speech therapist, I find that people find it really really hard to slow down their rate of speaking.

I've had much more success in teaching people to leave longer pauses. This may also slow your speech rate down, but even if it doesn't, it gives people time to catch up with what you are saying and it gives you a bit more time to plan. For some people we use the cue 'take a breath'. For others, we imagine full stops at the ends of every sentence. For others we imagine shorter sentences, one idea at a time.

If none of those work, I agree with someone above who said to choose someone whose rate of speech you like. As I tend to work with people with unclear speech, we pick news readers on a very serious radio station. Using an analogy like this means you can focus on 'sound like a news reader' rather than constantly checking your speech, pauses etc.

Good luck! Start by practicing for 5 minutes a day, then build it up. You won't be able to just start doing it overnight.
posted by kadia_a at 1:23 PM on April 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I tend to talk fast and it is worse when I am on antihistamines. I used to blame it on the antihistamines, but I eventually concluded that it was the allergic reaction and my body's response to it, which includes dumping adrenaline into the system. So, avoiding allergy triggers has helped me slow my talking speed. More accurately, it has helped me be more in control of my speech period, and speed is just one factor that has improved.
posted by Michele in California at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2016

One thing that helps me is to pretend that I'm reading to a child, and use the same pacing (not, obviously, the same tone of voice).
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:47 PM on April 24, 2016

When I need to slow down, I find running my hand very slowly across something helps. I drag my flat hand up one thigh. Hand is moving very slowly- if you do it really slowly people will probably not even notice you're doing it as your hand will only move a couple inches over the course of several sentences. Hand along arm, or hand across back of neck, or finger along edge of a table, etc, can work, too. Something about the tactile feedback makes it easier to pace yourself.

I first heard of this being used as a trick to help people stutter less- they suggested a wristband and dragging one finger along it. For more strategies, you could do a google search for stuttering hacks- fast speaking (and overlapping words, and a few other habits) is sometimes called "Cluttering", which is another term to google.

ALso- here's an app called Speak Better that may help you practice.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:59 PM on April 25, 2016

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