Talking too fast can mean losing your audience, and they may perceive you as nervous instead of confident. If you’ve tried to slow your speaking with no success, check out our comprehensive list of tips.
How to Talk Slower and Clearer
You want to get to the point. But fast talking could harm your career and interpersonal relationships. Fast talkers are sometimes viewed as nervous and may also tend as salesy or intentionally manipulative. Use these tips to avoid this communication and get your point across.
1. Measure Your Rate of Speech
Just how fast are you?
Thanks to some good old-fashioned math, you can find out your word per minute (w/pm) rate. It’s helpful to find your baseline, so you have some way to measure and recognize improvement.
A few things to consider:
- Standard speech rate falls between 140-160 WPM
- Fast speech is considered anything over 160 WPM
- Radio hosts and podcasters often speak faster at 160-170 WPM
Do the Math: Plan what you’ll say in advance and count the number of words. Still trying to decide what to use? Try this website that has a steady stream of short stories. Divide the number of words by the number of minutes you were speaking. Voila, you have your words per minute (WPM)!
Estimate Speaking Time: Curious how your WPM impacts speaking time? Type in your word count, choose a speaking rate, and speechinminutes.com will tell you how long you’ll be talking.
2. Feel Your Rhythm: Not Too Fast, Not Too Slow
As someone who talks quickly, slowing down to the pace of Steve Jobs may sound exasperating and painful.
Sure, he’s the gold standard of speakers, but his pacing might feel uncomfortable for you.
There’s great news.
There are different kinds of influential speakers, and the ideal speaking rate looks different for each person. Look for someone you respect that talks at a comfortable pace, and listen to them to find your talking speed sweet spot.
Curious about what the various WPM sounds like? Lynda Stucky recorded the varying rates so you can get a feel for what it sounds like.
- Choose a favorite speaker. Count the number of words in the speech transcript and then divide that by the number of minutes to find their w/pm
- Pick a famous speech (it doesn’t have to be from your chosen speaker). Here are a couple of options: JFK Inaugural Address Transcript (available in 14 languages) and Demosthenes Speech Transcript. Want more speeches? Check out our article on the best opening lines from famous speeches.
- Practice hitting the speaking rate of your favorite speaker. Record yourself reading a speech and then check your WPM. When practicing, intentionally speak slower than you think should be acceptable. This will help you get used to slowing down and help you feel just how fast you normally talk.
3. Read Poetry, Aloud
Let me count the ways that reading poetry aloud will help you talk slower:
- It will improve your speaking clarity. Poetry is beautiful—but let’s be honest, sometimes the words and syntax are challenging. Practicing this aloud will enhance the clarity of your words.
- It will force you to slow down. While some poetry might be easy to race through, others are so intricate and complex that you must slow down.
- You’ll sound less boring. As a fast speaker, you may unknowingly speak in a monotone. Reading poetry aloud will challenge you to add rhythm, inflection, and even emotion into your words.
- It changes how you interact with language. Reading poetry aloud may open your perspective on language. Words communicate beauty, truth, hope, and pain. Connecting to that can help you become a better communicator.
Action Step: If sitting alone and reading poetry aloud feels unimaginably painful, try reading along with someone else. This video has a selection of 50 poems read by celebrities. Turn on closed captions and read along; you’ll be about one or two beats behind the reader, enabling you to mimic their pacing and inflections.
Some favorite poets:
Pro Tip: Not a fan of poetry? You can also achieve a similar effect by reading your favorite fiction books and acting out different character voices.
4. Do a Little Improv
No, not that kind of improv.
Improve your clarity and speaking pace by giving 60-second improv speeches about random topics.
How to Play:
- You’ll need at least one other person for this (or this improv generator).
- One person, or the improv generator, will give the speaker a word they will speak on for 60-seconds.
- It can be as random as “banana” or “foot.”
- Set a timer for 60-seconds, and the speaker improvises a speech about the chosen word.
It sounds like this would make you speak faster, doesn’t it? At first, yes. You’ll breathlessly scramble for words, stammering and racing through everything you know about “foot.” But as you continue to practice, you’ll find yourself slowing down. You’ll get a feel for how long 60-seconds is, and your brain will begin to settle into organizing thoughts interestingly.
Action Step: Do this once a week, on your own (using the improv generator), with your partner, at a dinner party, or on your lunch break with some coworkers. Make sure to play long enough that everyone gets multiple turns.
5. Regulate Your Breathing
If you talk fast because you’re nervous, you’ve probably experienced running out of breath. It’s a vicious cycle.
You talk fast.
You can’t breathe.
Suddenly you’re trying not to gasp for breath.
You speed up in a desperate attempt to finish.
Work on regulating your breathing to avoid speeding up as you go and sound more confident.
- Avoid chest breathing. Chest breathing will make you feel even more anxious. Instead, breathe from your diaphragm.
- Breathe before your meeting or presentation. Calm yourself before giving a talk by breathing in through your nose 4 counts and out 4 counts several times.
- Don’t hold your breath while speaking. Practice breathing in through your nose and talking on the out-breath at home. This will both regulate your breathing and modulate your speaking pace.
Pro Tip: Practice breathing with the box breathing technique. This video guides you through the simple breathing exercise.
5. Add Pauses to Your Notes
Adding pauses to speeches and presentations CAN make you sound less robotic and more charismatic. This little tip is a powerful tool to hold your audience’s attention and get your point across clearly.
Maintain total control of your presentation by scripting your pauses in advance. Add a “//” or another symbol to indicate where you should pause.
But where should you put your pauses? Vanessa Van Edwards recommends using a power pause mid-sentence to add drama or, at the end of the sentence, to let a thought sink in.
Vinh Giang provides a great example of this while talking about pauses!
Did you notice his pauses? He accomplishes a balance speed while also pausing to emphasize his points:
“When you pause // you give people time to think about what you’ve just said // When you pause // it gives you time // to listen // and when you learn how to pause // it gets rid of all your umms // and your ahhs// and your non-words.”
Pro Tip: Always insert a pause after:
- Listen //
- This is important //
- Let me repeat that //
- Did you catch that? //
Action Step: As you write your speech, add pauses in areas you want to emphasize. As you practice, play around with emphasizing different parts of a sentence. Notice how the rhythm feels and adjust your pauses on paper as you test it out verbally.
6. Approach it Like City Driving: Vary Your Speed
Whether you’re on a first date or presenting a project to your board, keep your speech moving. That would be strange and possibly creepy. Instead, adjust your speaking to have natural and dramatic pacing to keep your audience’s attention.
If you practice reading poetry aloud, this can also help you with pacing. Your ultimate goal isn’t to hit a certain w/pm. Instead, you’re working on adjusting your speech to be more charismatic.
- Don’t try and cram all your information into a short amount of time.
- Cut information, or make it more concise so you can slow down.
- Increase speed to emphasize a sense of urgency.
- Decrease speed to emphasize a point or give weightiness to your words.
- If your goal is a connection (e.g., you’re on a date or you want to connect to your audience), speaking fast may not accomplish that.
Action Steps for Your Next Date:
- Remember that you don’t have to say everything at once. You have time with this person and can share your thoughts and feelings over time.
- Slow yourself down by listening. Ask your date a question, and then listen. Interact with what they’ve said, but keep asking questions, so you aren’t doing all the talking.
- Slow yourself down by taking a sip of your drink. If you find yourself racing through an answer, take a sip of your drink, pause, and take a breath to slow down consciously.
- Use your hand as a metronome. If you’re still talking too fast, slowly tap your hand or finger on your leg to help you slow down. Make sure to do this out of sight (under the table).
7. Be (a Little) Theatrical
As you speak, be deliberate. Use any of these things when you’re talking to add a short pause and communicate relaxed confidence:
- Take a drink of water
- Pause and wipe your glasses
- Pause to change the slide
- Pause to look down at your notes
- Pause to walk from one side of the room to the other
- Pause while maintaining firm eye contact with different audience members.
- Pause while you walk around the podium
You have the floor, and everyone is paying attention to you. Instead of rushing through what you have to say, slow down a little. Be present in your environment and use these somewhat theatrical movements to speak at a more moderate pace.
Pro Tip: Worried that people are bored and don’t want to listen to you? Worrying about that is counterproductive. Instead, when you take command of your environment and slow yourself down, you will exude confidence.
Action Step: Choose one thing from the above list and use it in your following speech or conversation. It may feel uncomfortable at first, so don’t overdo it!
8. Anchor to an Object or a Person
Before going into an interview or even walking on stage, plan to find something to anchor onto.
- If it’s an interview, think of someone you care about who is supportive. Enter the interview as though you are meeting with that person, and respond to questions the way you would talk to that person. This can help you calm your nerves and slow down.
- Have an object on hand for a presentation or meeting that can anchor you. Depending on your work environment, this could be a stress ball, a fidget toy, or a coffee mug. Focus on your anchoring object when your speech or heart rate accelerates. Imagine your stress seeping into the object and squeeze or soundlessly tap the object slowly to slow yourself down.
- If it’s a conference or other event, look for a friendly face to anchor you. There is usually at least one person in the audience who will resonate with you. Look for that person, and anchor back to their face whenever you speed up or get nervous. Pause and take a quiet breath before you continue.
- If it’s a date or social event, trigger serotonin and oxytocin using subtle self-touch. Calm yourself and slow your speech by rubbing your hands or leg. If possible, do this out of sight, such as under a table.
9. Learn the Art of Stage Presence
Did you know that public speaking is actually a skill? Many people struggle with stage anxiety because they feel they ‘missed the memo’ on public speaking or they are lacking because they do not have a natural stage presence. Not true!
Stage presence and public speaking are skills you need to be taught—very few people have them naturally.
Here are all the aspects of public speaking you can master.
- How to make a first impression with an audience
- How to have stage presence
- Powerful body language
- How to speak with a commanding voice
- What to do with your hands while speaking
For every speaking skill you add to your toolbox, the less speaking anxiety you will feel.
If you want help really diving into your presentation skills, be sure to sign-up for our course…
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Why do People Talk Fast?
People talk fast because they are nervous. It’s their culture, they want to get to the point, or they are worried others aren’t interested in what they have to say.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these and look at some solutions for whichever reason you talk fast.
- You are nervous. If you speak fast because of nerves, learn healthy ways to self-regulate in high-stress situations. And remember, what you have to say is important. Settle into a sense of self-confidence, and your speech rate will naturally slow.
- It’s your culture. Different cultures have different rhythms and rates of speech. If you naturally speak quickly because it’s your culture, look for ways to adjust your speech to your environment without losing who you are. Focus on being a stronger communicator rather than fitting into the dominant culture.
- You like to get to the point. There’s nothing wrong with that, but according to this study, fast talkers ultimately say the same amount as slow talkers. You can still get to the point, but practice slowing down and connecting with the person you are talking to. When you make that connection, what you say will have more impact.
- You aren’t sure people want to listen. If you fear others think you are boring, don’t speed up! Slow down, and assure yourself that what you have to say matters. If you feel bored, focus on communicating why you care about whatever you say. Share connection, and you’ll build charisma.
- Keeping up with your thoughts. If you’re ADD, extroverted, or just overwhelmed by your ideas, you may speak quickly to get everything out as fast as you think. Practice thinking before you speak, and don’t worry if you don’t share every thought going through your mind.
Talking Slower FAQ
It would help if you talked slower so your audience could process your words. Additionally, talking slower is important, so you aren’t perceived as nervous. It’s counterintuitive, but talking slower will allow you to share more information and, most importantly, to share it in a way that people can follow and appropriate.
Yes, you can train yourself to talk slower. Start by calculating your speaking rate, so you know how fast you talk. Then, practice articulating your words, speak dramatically slower (at home), and work on your pacing. Your goal is to use your speaking rate to communicate meaning and connect with the person you speak to.
To talk slower when reading a script, add in “//” to indicate areas to pause. As you read, avoid clustering or blurring words. Make sure to articulate each word and focus on the rhythm of your speech. Your rhythm of speech should include the natural emotions and inflections that you would use in a conversation.
The average pace for talking is about 150 words per minute but can fall between 140-160 words per minute. Remember that your focus should be more on pacing than words per minute. Proper pacing can help you communicate effectively and connect with whoever you are talking to.
Not only do you want to practice your pacing and rate of speech, but being a good communicator includes some other skills. Get our 14 Tips On How To Improve Speaking Skills.