Why Speakers Talk Too Fast
We all know someone who talks way too fast. In fact, we may be that person! It’s a common phenomenon among speakers. Today we are going to tackle one of the reasons why this happens.
It was in the mid-2010s when I participated in my first pitch competition. There was a small group of entrepreneurs in my school looking to win a couple hundred bucks. We were being judged by a small panel consisting of one of our professors and a couple local entrepreneurs.
I was the second to last to give my sixty second pitch. All my notes were in my head. I knew I had plenty of points to hit on that would sell my idea as the top choice. (It was a local music instruction business).
Now I just had to stand and deliver.
I began firing off each of my points as to why my business was the most likely to succeed. I had a plan to scale. A plan to hire more help. Even numbers on how this could grow to a national size! My business was the bomb!
Except, the panel of judges didn’t care.
In fact, I knew Iost them about 5 seconds in. Ouch.
When I asked them for feedback they said something that many of my friends had already told me.
“We can’t understand you – you talk too fast.”
Why Do We Talk Too Fast?
For many, when asking why they talk so fast, you will hear a myriad of responses.
“Speaking makes me incredibly nervous and tense!”
“I have crippling stage fright and just want to get out of there!”
“I grew up in New Jersey!” (Okay, that one was mine)
What is even more dangerous is that most don’t even recognize it unless they are told. According to this article the average person speaks between 110-130 words per minute. In other words, that’s roughly 2 words every second. And, that’s really not that much.
What happens when we go overboard on our speaking?
The Best Way To Lose An Audience
I want to do a quick exercise with you.
Close your eyes…
Just kidding – you’ll need to read this article! But seriously, take a moment and think about the last novel or magazine you read. Now, imagine reading that book again, except this time, there are no paragraph breaks, no commas, no periods, and the font is itty-bitty.
In other words, your novel pretty much just became a textbook! When was the last time you got giddy to hop under a blanket and crack open the next chapter of “Highschool Chemistry Made Easy: Exploring the Makeup of Our World” to find out what happens next?
My guess is never.
And chemistry is a really cool subject!
In fact, my guess is that anyone reading this article who is not incredibly passionate about chemistry probably felt like this. They dreaded having to go home and crack open that book. They hated having to reread it eight times to have a chance of passing their science exam. And folks, here is a little secret…
…When we talk a mile a minute, we turn our speech into the equivalent of a textbook.
Don’t Talk Too Fast – How To Slow Down and Keep Your Audience
Let’s focus on the design of your speech for now.
In short, our speeches are made up of two things: Content and Structure.
Often we want to build up to one incredible punchline. Or, we try to pack in information that explains other information and we get sidetracked. Or we simply play to our audience’s logic – not their emotions.
But here is the thing. Content is not the most important thing in our speech!
Let me say that again. Structure trumps content.
If you don’t believe me, let me ask you this. Would it be to easier find somebody who can explain the plot to Harry Potter or someone who can teach an elementary lesson in chemistry?
If our content is great and our structure sucks, nobody cares. If the content sucks and the structure creates a nice story, a lot of people will care.
However, if both of them are great – oh boy! You got yourself public speaking gold!
(And need I say what my thoughts are if both structure and content are poor?)
How does great structure translate into preventing someone from talking to fast?
If a speaker knows the most potent points to hit, will they feel the need to rush through everything to get to the end? What about if they turn their content into a story? Won’t that keep the audience engaged? And if the audience is engaged, will they still feel the need to pack in every bit of information before they audience is lost?
A great speech works for itself.
How To Write A Great Speech
Structure will take you far. Storytelling will take you farther. Ask yourself, where is the conflict in the story I am telling?
People love conflict. We love to hear stories about finding our way. We are storytelling beings! A great speaker knows this and uses it to connect with their audience.
There is a difference between saying that too much salt and fat is poor for your health versus hearing a story about how a poor diet almost killed the speaker.
As for me learning to pitch?
When I took the judges advice and enveloped my pitch with a story about a local band of middle-schoolers who found joy through music, I earned myself a nice chunk of change.
If you want to learn how to write incredible speeches, step-by-step, that make the audience want to listen to you, check out my book Written Word Crash Course!
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