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May 2024
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Don't Race the Pace

Advice From the Pros

By Bill Brown, DTM

Pace is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can greatly enhance your presentation. On the other, it can be one of your biggest enemies. It all depends on how you use it. Pace is the speed at which you speak. Like all aspects of vocal variety, it is best when it is varied. 

By speaking swiftly, you can indicate speed, urgency or danger. By speaking slowly, you can suggest tension, finality or fear. Slowness of pace can also indicate slowness of action. And it is a good way to emphasize a word or phrase.

Note, however, that I did not list “talking swiftly to cram more words in.” This is a frequent practice—people speaking at a constantly swift pace.

The typical Toastmasters speech is a maximum of seven ¬≠minutes long—and strictly timed. Going over time is frowned upon and will get you disqualified in a speech contest. When members write their initial speech, it is typically nine minutes long. They then have a choice to either edit their speech down to seven minutes or talk swiftly to get it down to that length. Guess which option most choose? Yep, they choose the latter, which is what I did when I first joined the organization.

So why does it matter? Sounds communicate the literal meaning of your words, expressiveness communicates something else—an implied or secondary meaning. Expressiveness is best achieved when your words have duration. Speaking quickly limits or eliminates the lengthening of individual words, and, thus, limits expressiveness. If your sole purpose is to communicate information, and intellectual connection is your only objective, speaking quickly can be effective. (That is, if you are not speaking so quickly that people can’t understand what you are saying.) If, however, you want to connect with your audience on both an intellectual and an emotional level, you will find it much more effective if you slow down to a normal pace.

You might ask, “Yes, but don’t some professional speakers speak quickly? Doesn’t that indicate that it is effective?” Yes, to a point.  I would suggest that these speakers have found a way to introduce some expressiveness into their style; however, when I hear them, I think to myself, How much more effective could they be if they slowed down and stretched out their words?

This article was reprinted from Bill Brown’s Speech Delivery Tips email series.


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