Rate of Speech – Way Too Fast!

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A common complaint about some speakers is that they talk too fast. Listeners are left lying in the dust, figuratively, trying to understand these speakers. By the time the listeners figure out the speakers’ message, the speakers are two topics ahead.

Speech rates varies in different parts of the US. New York City, for example, has a very fast rate of speech, while in some parts of the Deep South, it is much slower. A telephone customer service agent in NYC would be well-advised to slow his rate when speaking to a customer from many places in Mississippi or Georgia, for example.

Speech rate also varies with urgency, or in some cases, self-confidence. A person with low self-confidence may be worried someone else will not have patience to listen to him, so the speaker will talk faster.

When speakers are nervous, as when giving a presentation, their rate often increases. Considerable practice while visualizing the audience can help reduce nervousness. Other strategies include relaxation exercises, and know what to add or delete from a presentation if the rate is too slow or fast for the allowed time.

A slower speech rate should be used when the subject is technical or complicated, such as when an engineer is explaining a complex problem to a customer who is in another field of expertise. Speech rate can be overly fast due to certain speech or neurological disorders, and may be the first or most obvious symptom of them.

Easy things a listener can do to help a fast speaker are to show he has the interest and patience to listen. Sit down and give the fast speaker your full attention. If that is not enough, speak slowly yourself, to give the fast speaker a non-verbal signal to slow down. (Speaking slowly on an outgoing message for a phone often is very effective at slowing incoming speakers’ rates, so you can understand them!) Lastly, you can directly ask the speaker to slow down, and explain whatever you did not understand. Professional speech coaching is available to help reduce speech rates, in many cases.