Public Speaking: The Speed Factor

September 22nd, 2008 by Frank Damelio

dreamstime_11058210[1]When you are making a presentation, how important is the pace at which you speak?

While some people tend to talk more slowly when nervous, most people will speak much more rapidly. Why is this?  As your adrenaline flows, you become far more energetic, and a faster pace of speaking is a natural outcome.

If you are telling a story or speaking conversationally, a faster pace is not necessarily bad.  It can convey enthusiasm and help you build to a climax.  A faster pace becomes a problem when you are delivering content including tactics, facts, details, numbers, etc.  Your audience can be quickly overwhelmed and tune out.

For ten years, I was an economics teacher. Sometimes I would do a short presentation on current affairs and other times I would have students do a current events presentation. As the presenter delivered, I would make a simple three-question quiz.  The quiz would immediately follow the presentation.  Here is what I learned:  When I presented a current events topic, the students typically aced it.  When students presented a topic, their classmates earned poor grades.

After studying this, I concluded that it simply came down to the speed factor.  My five-minute presentations contained about half the information as compared to their presentations.  However, students retained far more of my information.  Even though my students did not read their presentations, they delivered them about the same speed as one would read.

Most of your audiences cannot comprehend information on an auditory level as quickly as they can by reading it.  That is to say we can absorb information more quickly by reading it than by hearing it.  This means that when you deliver content in your presentation, you  may wish to do so at a pace SLOWER than a typical reading pace; so that your audience can “digest” your meaning.  In this way you will not overwhelm your audience.  Remember, once you lose them, it is very challenging to get them back.

Keep in mind that both a slow pace and a fast pace can be equally boring.  The key is to VARY the pace, tone, inflection and use pauses after completing a thought.  If you are enthusiastic it will shine through; if you are apathetic, it is very difficult to fake it. 

Simply keeping the speed factor in mind when presenting will help your audience stay with you.  

Happy presenting!

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