Fast Talkers

by Stephen Boyd | June 30, 2003

One possible way to demand attention of your audience is to speed up your rate of speech. Certainly there is the need to speak slowly enough for people to understand and assimilate your message. There are situations where the only way to create the right mood for the content of your message is to speak slowly and methodically, especially if you are speaking to an audience for which English is a second language.

Slow speaking with lots of pauses, however, can create lethargy among your audience members, making them passive and indifferent to your message. People can think about four times faster than a person can talk, so the listener has the capacity to assimilate information without loss of comprehension when the speaker speeds up the rate. In contrast, if the presenter speaks slowly he or she can lose the audience’s concentration. Listeners will use the extra thinking time to let their thoughts wander elsewhere--and they may not return!

Psychologists have found that speakers who deliver at a rate of 190 words per minute are more likely to seen as credible, objective, knowledgeable, and persuasive as compared to slow speakers. We can see this specifically when attending an auction. If the auctioneer’s chant is too slow, the audience member may lose interest in the item being sold and thus lose the urge to bid. Part of the persuasive aspect of the auction is the auctioneer's rapid chant that accelerates the bidding process and motivates the audience member to bid quickly.

Especially in persuasive speaking the same is true. If you are in a spot in your speech where you are moving the audience to action or are seeking to get strong emotional assent of your content, speed up your rate of speech for positive results. One of the appeals of John Kennedy’s pubic speaking was his fast rate of speech. Certainly his Inauguration Speech was powerful in content but Kennedy also delivered it with a rapid rate of speech. Radio and television commercials usually have people speak at an accelerated pace as they extol the value of a particular product. When we speak to each other about something that is important to us, we show our excitement and concern by speaking rapidly. Just because you are delivering a message to a large group does not mean you should slow down to make sure everyone understands. Audiences can handle the fast talker from the lectern. Incorporate a rapid rate of speech to make your speaking more effective.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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