Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do I make myself clear? - pt. 1 - pace

It's nigh on impossible to deliver a successful speech if people don't understand what you are saying and are straining to hear/understand you (I invite you to picture their squinting, confused faces) In addition your crowd will certainly not be put into a mindset that is favourable to you if you put them in this position. All the effort put into mastering your subject and organizing your materials will be wasted. There are several factors that can contribute to your clarity in a presentation but I would like to focus on jut one at the moment: pace.

Speaking too quickly is a fault that is not limited to people who are feeling nervous and pressured. Even the most relaxed and confident speakers can fall into it's trap, in fact, sometimes it is their relaxed nature that gets them into trouble. The relaxed speaker can have the habit of speaking as they would in casual conversation and social speech and presentation speech are related but they are not identical twins by any means. When you are speaking to somebody one-on-one you are very aware of the exact level of attention that you are recieving and it is generally fairly high. As a result you can still be well understood even if you speak more quickly, and in a manner that is generally more slack in it's tones, shifts and emphasis (more on those in the next blog-post). If the same technique is employed with a large group of people the results will often be less than satisfactory because you are dealing with varying levels of attention and comprehension. Then, of course, there is the tense, speaker whose nervous energy inevitably manifests itself in a quicker pace, which in turn makes the speech that much more difficult to deliver.

Now, I can hear you saying (at a moderate pace) "well then, I guess it's a good idea to slow down a little", but unfortunately that does not sum up the solution, only the idea behind it. If you know that you have a speed problem you can simply tell yourself to slow down when delivering a speech, but this probably won't be much help. Typically what happens is that people in this situation begin at a good pace but then "forget to remember" to slow down, or lose track of where they are for a moment which increases their level of stress and speeds them up. When their pace starts picking up they notice the increase and that is, in itself, stressfull, which causes them to speed up and the ugly cycle continues it's merry spin.

The problem lies in the fact that "slowing down" is just an idea and people need something more tangible and immediate to help them. If there was a screen in front of you that had your words per minute rate on it, that would be likely do the trick but I don't foresee the installation of such screens in conference rooms any time soon. Fortunately there is an internal method that you can use that is even more effective and far more portable. The trick is to enunciate just a little bit more than you do in casual speech - it's that easy. Now, this has to be done within limits. You don't want to sound like Captain Picard at every meeting. What makes enunciation different from simply telling yourself to slow down is the fact that enunciation is something that you can actually feel: it is physical. The way you shape and move your mouth is altered when you enunciate. Your mouth can set itself to work in a specific way and your mind knows exactly what this way is through physical memory.

Try it the next time you speak. Just give a pinch more enuciation as you go through your speech and you will see how it slows your pace. In fact try it right now......try at this very moment to say this sentence really quickly and with profound enunciation..... I think you will see (and hear) my point; your pace is naturally slowed. The obvious benefit that occurs along with the slackening of pace is the fact that you are actually saying each word more clearly when you enunciate, so ironically, if you want to speak more clearly you should speak more clearly. Have I made myself clear?

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