We rarely notice when we’re guilty of it, and it’s a tough habit to shake. But when others do it, we recognize it instantly.
Like when you ask a question: “How’s the project?” and are met (more like blasted) with a lightning-speed answer.
Speaking too fast, unfortunately, is a common sign of stress. For those around you, it can be energizing – to a point – but talk at warp speed for only a minute or so, and you’ll quickly lose your audience.
So why do we talk too fast, and how do we fix it? And more importantly – am I doing it?
Read on to explore this week’s Coaching Card: Talking Too Fast and learn three practical tips that will help you be understood while enhancing your impact.
Do I Speak Too Fast?
Over-fast speaking is rarely a conscious choice – which makes it hard to know when we’re speaking at “a mile a minute.”
When we’re stressed, we sometimes:
- Talk less powerfully
- Increase our pitch unconsciously
- Miss out on or fail to highlight key points
- Pronounce our words less clearly, and consequently,
- Come across as less credible.
In a nutshell, speaking too fast makes us much harder to understand, which almost always detracts from the impact of our message.
It’s the opposite of what we want in an aligned, collaborative workplace, where information flows should enlighten and empower, not confuse.
Why Stress Makes Us Speak Too Fast
As I mentioned in my last Coaching Card blog: Losing Your Sense of Humor, stress responses are characterized by a surge of adrenaline – the body’s natural “fight or flight” hormone. In the wild, it made our ancestors react quickly, assessing potential threats, and acting quickly, instinctually, in self-defense.
In other words, it puts our brains and our bodies into high gear, and when our brains work faster, so do our mouths.
We often pick up the pace physically, walking faster, gesturing faster, and our words come out in a way that seems fine to us, but unintelligible to others. Meanwhile, we assume our listener is following our train of thought, but instead, they’re left behind in the dust.
So how can you slow down and be understood?
3 Exercises To Help Speed Talkers Slow Down
As a behavioral consultant, I have a few practical exercises that often come in handy when my clients find themselves struggling to be understood.
As a coach, you’ll find these 3 tips are easy ways to help others get their point across, establish clarity, and emphasize the importance of their messages.
1. Have a mental cue
Just as a Post-It can remind you about errands, a physical object of any kind can be a handy mental cue for you to slow down. It’s a very straightforward trick that can be very effective – just pick anything convenient from your desk, office, or workspace, and place it beside you before you talk.
Bringing a bottle to a meeting or the dinner table, for example, can act as a mental cue to stop, take a breath, and pause more often. This will create more natural pauses in your speech, and prevent you from overwhelming your audience.
2. Ask your colleagues to help
If “speakingtoofast” is something you’re prone to, don’t be afraid to tell your teammates, colleague, or anyone in your audience who can give you a little sign.
Let them know that you’re trying to speak slower and with more clarity, and chances are they’ll be more than happy to help.
“Sometimes I speak a little fast. If I get too fast and unclear, let me know.” Or, if you’re presenting, why not ask a colleague to give a little wave?
3. Talk like a snail
“Talking like a snail” is a great activity for speed-talkers who want to slow down, because it makes you more aware of your pace.
Pick a sentence, like “I’d love to practice enhancing my impact,” and when you’re alone, say it to yourself aloud. Repeat it again, this time slower, and pause.
If you’re up for it, do this twice, the second time time slowing your snail’s pace down even further. Then, say it again at your natural speed, and you’ll find it’s decreased by itself. This can be a particularly useful exercise to practice before a presentation.
Over time, you’ll find that talking at a slower pace comes to you much more naturally – when this happens, stop for a moment to savor the feeling and the meaning behind your words. If you’re like many people, you might find it has a soothing effect – even giving you confidence and helping you connect with your listener.