Pause Power: Slow Down When You Speak

Speakers who speak too quickly are often described as “overwhelming” and like “chipmunks on speed.”  People learn, listen and process at different rates, so if you speak TOO fast, your listeners may switch off because they cannot make sense of your ideas.

Here’s a 3 minute video I made about Pause Power and how to find your natural pace when you speak:


So if you are a naturally fast speaker, how do you remain true to yourself and communicate effectively with slower paced listeners?” I’ll start by sharing a story of when I was running a speaking workshop for some Brisbane Librarians:

Find Your Own Pace
Sitting within an intimate circle, I demonstrated how to speak impromptu by pausing and waiting until words arose. I had not had my morning coffee and was feeling slow and sleepy. So, honouring how I was feeling,  I spoke, slow and sleepy. And so did the next 8 people after me. I was thinking, “Wow! What a relaxed, deeply feeling group!” Then we got to Librarian Number 9 and she burst out:” Oh my god I just can’t do it! I can’t be slow. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! It’s just me! I have to break out and speak fast!”

As the facilitator, I hadn’t realised that the group was copying my style and assumed I was demonstrating the “right way” to do impromptu speaking. Thank you Librarian No 9 for reminding us to be ourselves. After that, participants found their natural speaking groove and I had my coffee!

How To Slow Down
Most of us do speak too fast. A slower pace, using gravitas, is restful and impactful. Listeners have time to absorb your words and if you are speaking to them, you want to create a maximum listening environment for your message to be heard.

You do not need to change your essential self and be something you are not. You just need to pause frequently. Imagine where the commas, colons, dashes, fullstops and new paragraphs would begin if your talk was in writing. That’s where you pause. Give people time to digest. A pause is like a non-verbal full stop. So take a risk and stop. It is only a matter of seconds or a couple of breaths.

And when you take those breaths, make eye contact with your listeners and use your whole body to connect with one person at a time. Actively using your body will also release your energy out through your limbs, rather than just your mouth!

A good way to practice finding the most effective pace for you, is to read out loud. And exaggerate the pausing opportunities like commas, fullstops and the main points in a sentence or idea.

What You Can Do
Use these “punctuation opportunities” as a guideline to slowing down with spacious ease:

  • To indicate a “comma” when you speak, stop and take a mini pause.
  • To indicate a “full stop” when you speak, stop and take a short pause of at least one full breath.
  • To indicate a “new topic or new paragraph” as it were, stop and take a big pause of at least three breaths.
  • Watch the British movie “The Kings Speech” which clearly demonstrates the impact and benefit of slowing your speech down. I’m not suggesting you speak as slowly as the King; I’m suggesting your natural pace will be enhanced with the mindful addition of pauses and a sense of spaciousness.

If you are a naturally fast speaker, then be mindful of your pace, ensuring your words are not tumbling insensibly from your lips. A chipmunk on high speed is cute only for a short time. Pause graciously at regular intervals to check your listeners are still with you and not overwhelmed. Smile, slow down and remember to take the scenic route.

© 2012, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.