Bernard O'Riordan, Media Trainer
Either the rate at which people speak these days has quickened dramatically or I urgently need a refresher course in Pittman shorthand.
Quite simply, I find myself being left in the dust by fast-talkers – people who speak at such a rapid clip that my note taking simply cannot keep pace.
People speak fast for a variety of reasons. It might be symptomatic of the fast-paced techno world we now live it. It could be geographic. Or it could be a sign of nerves.
We all tend to speak faster when we’re nervous or find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation, like a media interview.
In fact, it’s probably one of the most common problems I encounter during media training role plays.
Quite often, fast talkers have so many ideas running through their heads that they can’t get it out fast enough. They tend to trip over their thoughts which leads to disjointed responses, shortened sentences and skipped words.
Let’s face it, sitting in the hot seat being quizzed by a reporter is not a situation many of us are ever likely to be comfortable with. The blood pumps, the palms are sweaty and we’re trying to sound interesting and informative.
So in a way it’s understandable that so many people race to respond: they just want to get the interview over and done with.
But if you want to be persuasive and influence the way a reporter write’s their story (not to mention what your audience takes away), then it’s crucial that you to take a breath, slow down and deliver your insights in a credible and measured way.
And here’s why. Consider that the average person speaks about 150 words per minute, while the human brain can process more than 500 words per minute.
That’s all well and good when you’re having a normal, lively conversation around the dinner table or in a business meeting.
But a media interview is not a normal conversation, so you probably need to aim to speak at around 100 words per minute, the usual lower pace of normal conversation.
That might sound uncomfortably slow, but put yourself in a reporter’s shoes for a minute. They are asking questions, processing your response and trying to take notes – while thinking of their next question.
Even at 150 words per minute only a reporter with top-notch shorthand would be able to keep pace let alone digest the information you are throwing at them. (Sure many reporters record their interviews but who has time these days to scroll back through an hour-long recording?).
There's been a lot of conflicting research on the topic over the years. In the 1970’s a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested people who talked at a fast rate (195 words or more per minute), were more credible, intelligent and socially attractive.
Slow talkers on the other hand (those who spoke at about 100 words per minute or less) were considered less intelligent and even lacked credibility.
But that quickly changed in the 1980’s and 1990’s when researchers started to realise that while fast talkers might sound credible, they were not necessarily persuasive.
Researchers at the University of Michigan looked at speech rate and persuasion in 2011 as part of a study into telephone marketing tactics. They also found that people who included frequent short pauses in their ordinary speech were likely to be more persuasive than those that didn't pause at all.
In a nutshell, if you want to persuade someone you need to give them time to digest what you're saying and understand it, rather than bulldoze them.
Consider how important that is if you're doing a TV or radio interview also. If you want to influence an audience or change perceptions, then a measured pace will be much more effective.
When you deal with print reporters, the faster you talk the harder you are making it for them to keep pace with what you are saying. That can lead to misunderstandings, errors and a strategic message which is probably going unheard.
Your fast-talking may cost you any chance of being quoted because the reporter simply missed the killer quote you rattled off in a hurry.
Sprinting through your message will make reporter's think your trying to pull the wool over their eyes, but the flipped is that talking too slow will bore them. So you need to find a happy median.
Here are a few simple tips to help you slow down and deliver more meaningful and effective content:
Slow down: If you know you are a fast talker, aim to deliberately slow your rate of speech by around 20 per cent in a media interview. There’s no point trying sounding like an expert or super intelligent if no-one can keep pace with what you’re actually saying;
Speak up: Lift your tone and speak a little bit louder. You will automatically find that it requires more breath, and you will probably slow down and articulate words more effectively;
Pause: Allowing time for pauses, intonation and emphasis can engage the listener. By providing more time between words gives the audience a chance to think about what you’ve said and chances are they’re more likely to agree. It’s fine to pause for a second or two when you get asked a tricky or complex question;
Record yourself: One of the best ways to see just how fast you talk is to record yourself. So break out the video camera or smart phone and record yourself. You might realise you need to slow down the pace and add more inflection on certain words for effect.
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