Slowing Down
May 17, 2004 11:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop talking so fast? [details inside]

Background: Some people, such as my grandmother, have mentioned in the past that I talk very fast. Since the complainants were generally older people, I tended to dismiss it as a generational thing. However, I recently listened to a recording of myself doing a radio interview, and I was talking so fast I could barely understand myself. I also seem to run words together slightly; as a friend pointed out, there isn't much of a change in inflection between my words, which doesn't help as I'm steamrolling through sentences.

When I purposefully try to slow down, it's very awkward and I tend to lose my train of thought, as I think too far ahead of what I'm saying. How can I slow down my speech without sounding. like. I'm. stopping. after. every. word? Or how can I make it easier for other people to understand my rapid speech?
posted by realityblurred to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I used to have the same problem., from as far back as I can remember until I conquered the problem when I was around 23 or so. I was pretty introverted because of it - I didn't like to talk to people that often because I *knew* they would not understand me the first time around, and would ask me "What? Can you repeat that?", which as an indignant teenager infuriated me. So, rather than have to repeat my self, I'd either keep what I said to short, curt responses, or just not talk to anyone at all.

I didn't really have a specific method of slowing down my speech, I just tried to be aware of it. Pretending that you're talking to someone whose native language is not English seemed to make the process a bit more palatable.
posted by skwm at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2004

It's hard to say without hearing you -- self-perceptions of "fast talking" might have little to do with actual speaking rate and more to do with articulation. You might be a clutterer (in the family of stuttering) and/or you might have articulation problems, which can be idiopathic or stem from all sorts of things, benign and not-so-benign. (Not to make you panic. The not-so-benign causes, like degenerative neurological diseases, usually have other red flags that show up earlier than speech problems.)

Do you live by a university? Check to see if they have a speech pathology department. They may be associated with a clinic that will do inexpensive evaluations and recommend/deliver speech & language therapy if necessary. They can at least refer you to someone who can evaluate you.

I'm not a licensed SLP -- just studying to be one!
posted by kmel at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2004

I should add, it could just be dialectical. And old people's auditory processing tends to deteriorate over time.
posted by kmel at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2004

I talk fairly fast, but my main problem is stuttering. Only time I don't stutter is when I hear delayed audio feedback of my own voice while speaking (this is actually a common therapy for stuttering). Problem is, it distracts me and I lose my train of thought.

I instead have had to just practice speaking cleanly - I can get through the workday pretty well, but by the time I get home, I'm tired and can easily fall into a full stop on certain syllables if I'm not concentrating. Lucky for me, my stuttering is more an annoying affectation and isn't debilitating.

To get back on topic, you might be able to rig a feedback system and give it a shot - hook up an audio system where your voice is miced, then put on headphones - you may or may not need the delay (I can't help with how to obtain that - know any sound techs?). Do a search for "Delayed Auditory Feedback" to learn more.
posted by Sangre Azul at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2004

I'm a fast/badly articulated talker too. While I'm nowhere near beating it, I'd advise focusing on articulation. Fast talking can actually be a benefit, provided people can parse what you're saying. Ofcourse you'll still need to work on speed for speeches and presentations, but in general it's not all that bad.
posted by fvw at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2004

When giving interviews you should use short, emphatic statements.

Some great speakers I know tend to use the same expressions, jokes and phrases on different occasions. It doesn't matter whether they're on TV or at dinner - the same old chestnuts are used. A lot of people don't seem to like doing this. But one advantage of drawing from a repertoire is that the speaker is familiar with the rhythm of each phrase and so can speak confidently.

You don't need to say a lot. Break your thought into chunks, borrow from a warchest of familiar phrases, and take lots of deep breaths. Good luck!
posted by skylar at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2004

I've had a few fast-talking friends I could barely understand. It wasn't sheer speed that was the problem but slurring and lazy enunciation (not to mention poor word choices and slangy grammar, etc). All of this adds up to *diction*. You need to improve your diction.

If speech therapy sounds too extreme, think about taking an acting class, or practicing Shakespearean soliloquies on your own. If you can improve you enunciation and projection, speed itself will be less of an impediment to understanding for someone listening to you. And anyway I'm betting that improved diction will slow you down, as proper enunciation takes more time.

The acting discipline entails a lot of training in these areas. And I bet an acting class would be more fun than speech therapy anyway. If you want to try something on your own, I say select some challenging material like Shakespeare, something that already has a steady internal rhythm and will force you to concentrate.

Watch some of the greats for inspiration. I like Patrick Stewart, John Malkovich and James Earl Jones.
posted by scarabic at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2004

Your brain is racing ahead? Use some of the spare capacity to plan what you are going to say.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:19 PM on May 17, 2004

I am not a speech pathologist, nor have I been to one, read much about the discipline nor claim expertise at all. In fact, I'm pretty sure I spelt "pathologist" wrong, and will have to correct it with the spell checker. None the less, I too am a fast, inarticulate talker (as you might be able to tell from my prose and frequent parenthetical tangents), and this helps me:

Try imitating accents (on preview, this is similar to scarabic's advice).

Find nice long speeches of someone speaking in a Scottish brogue, or a Texas drawl or an Australian... um... Fosters, or just anything pretty foreign to your usual way of speaking. foreign radio services are great for this kinda thing.

Just listen at first, then while listening, imitate strange vowel sounds (like the Australian nasal "ech" for a long a [PS, I am also not a linguist]), then words, then try to talk in that accent along with the person (I just repeat random sentences while listening to the radio).

This gets me focusing all my attention on how I'm talking, not what I'm saying, then try to say other things in that accent.

This gets you talking in a different cadence, and then you can work on carrying that cadence over to your normal speech.
posted by Capn at 1:44 PM on May 17, 2004

Have you tried a local Toastmaster Club? I belong to one and find it very supportive. They try to help me improve my own speech. They've helped me (so far) with:
  1. Speaking in general. I still dread it but I dread it less.
  2. How fast I speak. I used to be a terribly fast talker.
  3. How I speak, the diction.
  4. How I write. I've always had a habit of not having beginnings or endings to what I write.

posted by substrate at 1:59 PM on May 17, 2004

One of the things that you will receive if you join a Toastmasters club is a manual on vocal exercises. A part of that manual covers the issue of rate of speech and offers some tips for practicing slowing down or speeding up your pace. While I would encourage you to join at Toastmasters club, I have a spare copy of that manual, so you don't have to make a commitment in order to get it if that's all you want. If you would like it, please drop me an email with your mailing address. Email address is in my profile.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:29 PM on May 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. I'm glad I'm not alone with this, um, problem/condition/habit, which I think is best described as "lazy enunciation." When I say familiar things, such as my name, people are most likely to ask me to repeat it, and I think that's because I just trample those frequently used phrases as I speak. I like the idea of acting classes, but I'll definitely be trying some of the home remedies here, too.
posted by realityblurred at 3:05 PM on May 17, 2004

How fast I speak. I used to be a terribly fast talker.
realityblurred, Sounds like you enjoy talking by sharing a lot of thoughts.

Maybe by expanding your vocabulary. Using larger words will enable more succient(sic) thoughts and speech. Also by thinking more when finding these words will allow a slower speech. I talk with my hands while talking, which slows me down.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:18 PM on May 17, 2004

After twenty years of typing a lot and not saying much, I went to law school and did the mandatory moot court class where I proceeded to talk quickly to the point of intelligibility. The only thing I could do was purposely slow down. It feels weird as hell, but in the subsequent moot court competition I got comments saying how calm and collected I was, how nobody's questions seemed to faze me, etc. That wasn't really true, I had just learned to embrace the silence. Picture Al Gore - he was a horrible campaigner, but he'd make a great appellate lawyer.

Granted, lawyering is somewhat more amenable to slow, deliberate speech than other professions or casual social conversation. It might, however, be suitable for an executive boardroom, or even asking a question in class. It's all about the practice, just like anything else.
posted by PrinceValium at 3:56 PM on May 17, 2004

If all else fails, just move to New York. You'll be right at home. Everytime I go anywhere outside the city, people tell me I talk too fast. I never get that in the city.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:07 PM on May 17, 2004

Try imitating accents


People who grew up speaking other languages (even other regional forms of your own language) are accustomed to making sounds that are very hard for you to make. They're also bad at making certain sounds which you don't even think twice about. This is a totally natural part of linguistics and the way our mouths learn to talk.

The upshot is that you exercise muscles you don't use often if you practice speaking like someone from somewhere else. If you practice speaking in a very very French accent, for example, you will find that you need to enunciate your T's to a degree you'd probably feel ridiculous doing in English, and that you really must learn to roll your R's to make it sound real. This is very good prractice for the mouth and, if you have a flair for the dramatic and ridiculous, it's a lot of fun, too.
posted by scarabic at 4:08 PM on May 17, 2004

Similar to scarabic's advice.. (picked up from being in forensics league in years past):

Try to pronounce every consonant in every word, especially the D's and T's at the ends of words, and make them actually sound like "d" and "t" and not that weird hybrid consonant that sounds like a mixture of the two. It really forces you to pace your speech. Even people "without accents" in America tend to slur a lot without realizing it, and focusing on saying the end of the word prevents that. The trick is doing it without sounding too forced.

And I love saying "It's only wafer thin!" when nobody else is around.
posted by Hypharse at 9:53 PM on May 17, 2004

Another enunciation technique I picked up back in high school debate:

Practice reading alound while biting down on a pencil lying horizontally in your mouth (similar to Hamtaro biting a pencil at the bottom of this list -- angelfire doesn't allow a direct image link). I'm being serious. Practice perfecting enunciation (particularly of plosive consonant sounds and the like) with the pencil in your mouth, and it will assist you to moderate your speed and improve your enunciation overall.

It works. It's easy. It's cheap. A pen works too.
posted by quasistoic at 3:19 AM on May 18, 2004

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