Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
-- GEORGE WASHINGTON
Many people, because of excitement or nervousness, speak too fast and listen too little. People who speak too fast can be both frustrating and irritating.
Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam simply because you didn't have enough time to understand what the traffic reporter on the radio said? Near what off-ramp was that accident, and what was the alternative route? If only these reporters didn't speak so fast. They are professionals. Don't they know it's difficult to absorb a lot of information so quickly? If they would simply slow down, you'd have time to grasp the situation and make the decision to take an alternative route.
Have you ever received a message on your answering machine where the return telephone number was spoken so rapidly or incoherently that you couldn't get the last four numbers? You end up having to replay the message, sometimes more than once, to get the right number.
We all know people who fast talk and are difficult to listen to. You could even be one of them. The trouble with fast talk is that it invariably creates negative impressions and virtually no positive ones. A fast talker gives you no time to think. What kind of person comes to mind when you think of a fast talker? Don't you think of a used-car salesman, a con artist, or someone who is trying to manipulate or hustle you into something that is not in your best interest?
Fast talk makes a speaker sound less thoughtful and more self-centered, which affects how sincerely and honestly that person comes across. Such speakers seem interested only in what they have to say. Fast talk is a sure way to neutralize any opportunity for charm.
What is the solution for fast talk? There are two techniques you can use. The first, covered here, is simply to slow down. The second (covered in Chapter 27) is for you to learn how to use silences in conversation.
If you been told many times that you speak too quickly, there's an internal monitor you can use to control speaking too fast; it's called your comfort zone. Just as we have comfort zones on the outside, where standing too close to someone is intrusive and too far away destroys intimacy, we have comfort zones inside, too.
When you're doing something unfamiliar or out of the ordinary, you will often feel decidedly uncomfortable. You will have an almost irresistible urge to go back to doing it the old way, even if the old way was not working all that well.
We are all creatures of habit. We too easily slip into a rut and then resist all pressure to get out of it. We are always more comfortable doing things the way we have become accustomed to doing them. It's like the ritual we go through when we get ready for the day. First, the left shoe, then the right, then lace the right one, then the left. If you try to change the pattern, it feels odd.
In our seminars, we often ask people to fold their arms and notice which arm is on top. Then we ask them to refold their arms with the other arm on top. Try it yourself. Doesn't it feel odd? This is the same feeling you have when you attempt to change an old habit.
But all growth and personal development comes from forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones into the zone of discomfort. If we never challenge our comfort zones we will never change -- and that includes changing for the better.
Old habits die hard, and rapid speaking is among the most persistent of them. If it's a habit you are having trouble kicking, the very least you should do is make sure you slow down when you are making your more important points. This technique alone will create the perception that you are speaking more slowly overall.
It is important that you keep practicing at speaking more slowly. After a while, you'll start to develop a new comfort zone at your new pace of speaking. You will then feel uncomfortable when you speak too quickly because the new, slower speed is becoming more and more comfortable for you. And what's more important, you'll find it's much more comfortable for your listeners, too.
Here are two exercises you can use to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and into the performance zone of higher achievement.
First, get a tape recorder and tape yourself reading aloud. Speak at a speed that sounds uncomfortably slow to you. Your instinct may demand that you speak at your old speed, but pay no attention to it. Now, play back the recording. You will soon discover that although you sounded slow to yourself when you spoke, it will sound just right on the recording. You can check this out by asking a friend or family member to listen to your recording.
Second, use the same technique during a conversation with a friend. Though the tempo may still feel too slow to you, it will almost certainly be fine for the listener.
Remember, in the early stages of learning to slow your speech, you will and must feel uncomfortable. If not, then you're probably still speaking at your old, quick speed.