How do I slow down at talk?
July 27, 2021 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I have been told for most of my professional career that I tend to speak too fast in almost all scenarios (interview, instructing, oral exams, or just old fashioned talking with people )… and I’d like to change that. Even when I go in consciously thinking “slow down”, it quickly disappears. Had anyone read a book, learned a technique(s), bought an app, or gone to a class that has helped? Thank much!

It doesn’t matter if I’m nervous, relaxed, have a good command of the subject, or BSing, if I’m talking to new people, old friends, or even close family I tend to let my brain go faster than my mouth.
posted by aggienfo to Human Relations (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem, and it's also my brain going faster than my mouth. I wouldn't say I've solved the problems by any means, but I have found that asking questions frequently will slow me down. Even if it's just a quick "know what I mean?", that slows a bit. More than that will depend on context, but you can always use tricks like "have you ever heard of ____?" before launching into a discussion of whatever the thing is, or can you sometimes phrase what would otherwise have been declarative sentences as questions? There's a natural tendency to pause after asking a question, even if you aren't actually expecting an answer.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing I've found useful for specific contexts is practicing with a teleprompter app, even if I won't use the teleprompter for the final presentation. You can set the app to hit a specific words-per-minute pace and read along with it to get a feel for what pace you're trying to get to. In your case, you want a more general skill than a specific speech but maybe if you tried inputting some things you wrote into a teleprompter and reading them at various slower-than-your-usual speeds, you could retrain your speech patterns, or at least know better what you're aiming to sound like.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:20 AM on July 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: train yourself to pause and look at your listener. asking them what they think or if they've experienced whatever you're talking about is also a good way to be a more pleasant conversationalist, and simultaneously take a breath.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2021

I have this problem, and I’m still not great at it, but one thing that works is to tell myself that the goal is to talk way too slowly. Not to try to slow down, because that’s not really meaningful to me, and so I end up not able to gauge it. But actively… to… talk… like… I’m… trying… to … stall. Not lengthening the actual words, just the pauses in between them. Because I’ve found that what I think is painfully, embarrassingly slow is what other people hear as normal, or thoughtful. It’s a hard hurdle to get over because my brain keeps telling me I sound like a moron, but no one has ever asked me why I’m doing it, or even (as far as I can tell) noticed it. But I get the “you need to slow down” comment a lot less when I do it.
posted by Mchelly at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

I received speech coaching a while back after I had a handful of bad experiences public speaking. I had a couple of panic attacks while doing talks even though I’d been successful in front of very large audiences in the past. Breath control was one of my problems.

I learned that there’s a tight relationship between breathing, preparation and anxiety. My most well-received talk until that point included a live translator for whom I had to stop between sentences. This gave me room to breathe which kept me oxygenated and calm. The translator also needed me to walk them through my talk beforehand so they could check terminology. Having my content fully prepared for them meant that I could confidently end my sentences which provided time for breathing. Without an end in mind for each thought I tended to pack in caveats, ideas, and emphasis. Audiences perceive this as rushing, and it interferes with breathing.

The biggest thing I learned is that speech that sounds right to an audience sounds slow in my head, and speech that’s right for me sounds like rushing to an audience. The deliberate performance of a thought is different from its messy creation.
posted by migurski at 12:03 PM on July 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

Water. Stop every now and then and sip for what feels like an unnaturally long time.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2021

I solved this by spending a lot of time over a long period of time with someone who makes really long pauses in conversation.
posted by aniola at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2021

Ask a friend to record you while you're talking excitedly, or do it yourself.

It's likely the next time you begin to accelerate speed, you'll remember the tone and alter the pace.
posted by firstdaffodils at 12:53 PM on July 27, 2021

It helps me to audio record myself presenting (especially new material) because I can hear how rushed my speech was, that I was slightly out of breath and (embarrassingly) occasionally making lip smacking noises due to dry mouth. This gives me ideas of what to work on and then I practice deliberately adding in more pauses.

Another thing I learned is that sometimes the fast speech is because I'm trying to communicate more than is necessary or possible in the amount of time given. In a professional context, it's generally anxiety telling me that I need to over-deliver in case there's a question that throws doubt on my competence, so then I'm rushing trying to cover all my bases and then some, while also anticipating a negative outcome. Identifying that anxiety gives me another opportunity to refine the presentation, which helps with the delivery and the content.
posted by sm1tten at 12:56 PM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm trying to communicate more than is necessary or possible in the amount of time given

This. I don't have this problem, but I've worked with students who do, and almost always this is the basic genesis. The student naturally wants to explain 100% of what they've done, but that's not feasible in a 20-minute presentation and completely impossible in a 5 minute one. Rather, such presentations function as advertisements for the work they've done. I've found once students absorb that they are not supposed to communicate everything they know about the subject in those short time slots, they're able to spend sufficient time ahead of time to cut down what they want to say so it fits in the available time. So, for any formal presentation (work, academic, or otherwise pre-planned), time yourself, and time yourself to hit maybe 75-80% of the time slot you actually have. That way you'll feel a bit of a push to slow down lest you finish early.

The prioritization of information is also important here. People absorb simple single-clause sentences more easily. If your sentence has only the important info, then other people will understand it better. Doing some short pre-planned presentations will force you to prioritize, and then you can use that prioritization whenever you speak about the topic.
posted by nat at 1:11 PM on July 27, 2021 [8 favorites]

I used to have a job that was public-facing where I did trainings and gave presentations several times a week, and my boss worked on me with this exact thing a LOT in the early days. The first time I gave a training, he joked afterward, “If that were a race, you would’ve won.” The next few times we had a hand signal that he would give if I needed to slow down, which was often, but after a few more times I didn’t need it anymore.

Someone said above that speech that is is too fast feels normal in your head, and speech that is just the right pace for your audience will feel painfully slow to you. This is exactly the right barometer. I could not believe how awkward it felt to be speaking that s-l-o-w-l-y, but it’s always exactly the right tempo. I try to keep in mind that if I feel like dying from how incredibly painful and stilted my delivery feels, it’s probably precisely right for the group of people I’m speaking to.
posted by anderjen at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

In the past, I've found Toastmasters genuinely useful for this and other bad speaking habits, as a lowest-possible-stakes way to get real feedback from an audience. Local groups can vary widely in membership, goals, and quality.
posted by eotvos at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Similar to thoughts above two things that helped me:
  1. Keep sentences short - really short. One part of one idea per sentence. Lists are your friend
  2. Take an extra breath between sentences
Sounds dumb but has dramatically lessened the amount of similar feedback I've received at work in the past couple years.
posted by mce at 2:46 PM on July 27, 2021

Response by poster: thanks all for your help!
posted by aggienfo at 4:40 PM on July 27, 2021

Try reading outloud to a metronome?
posted by SLC Mom at 11:42 PM on July 27, 2021

If you make sure to enunciate every single word, it is almost impossible to talk too quickly.
posted by birdsquared at 9:07 PM on July 29, 2021

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