Learning to Control Pace

Generally, a FASTER speaking speed signals urgency, excitement, passion or raw emotion. It can lead the audience to expect something thrilling is going to occur. They hold their breaths and go for the ride with you.

In contrast, a SLOWER speaking rate signals importance, seriousness, or significant ideas. It says: ‘LISTEN TO ME! YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS.’ A new concept or new and perhaps, complex sequential information may need to be delivered slowly so your listener has time to grasp all of the ideas and their consequences before moving on. ‘Slow’ is also useful for summarizing material.

The combination of slow, fast, slow, medium speed etc. adds interest to your interpretation, and makes it easier for the listener to identify with the message.

Here are several areas you can work on and practice to help you slow down your delivery:

  • Read aloud part of a text with which you are familiar. Record yourself. Then play it back. Where was the speed appropriate for the piece? Where was it not? Mark those places on your script.
    (Use a highlighter: red for fast, blue for go slower) Read again, incorporating your changes.For sources, try passages from the Bible, the text from a famous speech you know well. If you don’t have copies, you can find them easily through a quick search on the net.
  • Read a children’s story silently several times to familiarize yourself with the flow. Go through it again noting which passages would suit taking more quickly and which should be slower. Read aloud making those changes and listen carefully.

The next step is to:

  • Pick an information-loaded report from a newspaper or magazine. Go through it to familiarize yourself with the flow of material and then read aloud. Make a note of which passages need careful or slow reading and which can be taken at a faster rate. Re-read aloud until you feel you have the mix of speeds right. As an extension exercise, read the report as if you were reading for an audience who knew nothing about the subject. Note what changes you made and why.
  • Time yourself reading or saying your speech at your normal speaking rate. Note the time down. Now go through again having marked passages for slower or faster treatment. Note the new time. You can use an inexpensive electronic metronome (under $20.00) to set different tempos.
  • Practice with a partner. Go through any of the exercises above. Explain what you are doing and ask them to listen for effectiveness. Get them to note examples where you did well and where you needed to alter your rate and why.
  • Listen to voiceover talents you admire. Note the different rates of speech they use over the course of their presentation and the effectiveness of them.
    Try to listen to a variety so you have a broad range from which to draw inspiration.
    Take elements of their rate changes and experiment with them for yourself. Imitate.

And lastly, give yourself a pat on the back. Changing speaking pace is challenging. The habitual speed of our speech is deeply ingrained. As children we are very effective sponges. We soak up everything around us, including the speech rates used by our significant adults. What was their normal speech speed becomes ours. It feels natural, comfortable and right! Altering rate is not impossible, but it does require awareness, effort and practice!