Jul 10 2012
When listening to others, people can process speech at the rate of speech (ROS) of 90-140 words per minute. However, as speakers, we are able to articulate about 200 words per minute. That means you may speak faster than others can hear you. Speaking at a slower rate allows you time to breathe, time to emphasize words for color, and the ability to add variety in pace as well as volume and emotion. It also allows your audience to really hear what you have to say and to follow your ideas.
Below is text you can use to practice your pace as a speaker. It’s a piece on listening from my book, Can You Hear Me Now?, and you may enjoy reading it even if your pace is fine! I have indicated the first 143 words. The entire piece is 203 words long. Set a stop-watch and see how long it takes you to read the first 140 words. If you finish before one minute has elapsed, slow down your pace and test yourself again. Conversely if you take longer than a minute to get through the first 99 words, you probably need to increase your pace. Figure out what’s comfortable for you. If 140 words ROS feels too slow, try for 150 word ROS, but no more. Once you have established the right pace, practice it with this text and others until it becomes habitual.
All listening is basically biased. We bring our own story, our own history, to whatever we do. Often we listen to others so that we can find a space to jump in with our comments. We forget what the other person is saying because we are so focused on our personal expression.
Yet there are many benefits to actually hearing what another person is saying. Some of them are as follows:
• You create an environment in which people can express themselves more clearly. By confirming what you have heard the (90 words to here) other person say before you comment on their remarks, and by insisting that they do the same, you minimize confusion and misunderstandings in conversation.
• You create a more relaxed environment for exploration and learning. When people feel heard, they are more likely to put aside their defenses and be open to productive discussion. (143 words to here)
• You ensure better understanding. You can wait to prepare a response until you are sure that you have heard the other person clearly. Your response is more likely to be appropriate.
• You become more present in the conversation. You have to pay attention in order to listen. You will learn more and be able to add more to the conversation. (203 words to here.)
For other ideas on this topic, see this guest post on Ian Griffin’s excellent blog
For more ways to add variety to your speech, please see my post 5 Colors for Vibrant Vocal Variety.
For another approach to rate of speech, please see Susan’s post on speaking rate.
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