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Why Slowing Down is Critical to your Presentation Success

Far too many of us speak quickly.

For those of us living in Scotland, that’s a daily battle.

Here’s why slowing down can turn your presentation success around – and how you can take the first step today.

The effect on you

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Three words per second.

If you listen to Ken Bruce on BBC Radio 2, you’ll notice a really slow pace.

Naturalist David Attenborough is even slower, about 2.5 words per second.

Most people living in Glasgow, the west of Scotland, or Northern Ireland, are up between 4-4.5 words per second.

The Spanish and Italians are generally quicker too.

All of that means the brain is having to work very hard to generate its thoughts.

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So you get rambles.


Long, subordinate clauses.

Slowing down gives you more time to think.

Time to say what you really mean.

Time to avoid subordinate clauses and get straight to the point.

Time to organise your thoughts to avoid rambling.

As a result, your presentation is briefer and more focused.

The effect on your audience

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We’ve discussed the rate of delivery from the presenter.

But what about the rate of absorption from the audience?

Your audience really only cares about one thing.

What’s in it for them?

If you’re rushing through that at a million miles per hour, they’re missing out.

Especially if they’re trying (unsuccessfully) to take notes.

They may miss out on the name of the programme, the Twitter handle, the number of employees you’re looking to hire.

Specifics get lost when you talk quickly.

But there’s something deeper going on too, something worse.

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Your audience makes a judgment about you – that you’re lacking control or discipline.

So much onus is on the presenter to do a good job, that anything other than a top performance can leave the audience feeling short-changed.

Feeling uncertain.

The danger is that a mediocre presentation is mistaken for a mediocre project, or organisation.

The person fails to buy into you – and so fails to buy from you.

Instead, slowing down has the opposite effect.

Everyone can absorb every single word.

Pace and content of your presentation

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OK, I know what you’re thinking.

You’ve got a lot to get through in your presentation.

It’s so complex and multi-faceted that you couldn’t possibly deliver it at 3 words per second.

That’s where great content comes in.

Think about the news.

There is so much to say every evening, but it’s the job of the script-writers to condense it into bulletins.

Otherwise, Huw Edwards would be there all night, discussing the intricacies of the North Korean state or the composition of the Higgs-Boson particle.

You need to craft headlines too.

Bullet points, words and phrases that guide your talk.

Mark Twain famously quipped that it took him three weeks to write a good impromptu speech.

Making something brief enough with great content takes time.

Now you need to let that great content breathe, so everyone can absorb it.

Pace and tone of your presentation

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Research has shown that your voice accounts for 38% of the impression you make during your presentation.

It has three dials: pace, tone and volume.

Volume needs to be judged according to the message.

Pace and tone and absolutely linked together, yin and yang.

When the pace comes down, it gives you more chance to turn the tone up and down.

To make it flow, rather than being monotonous.

The best way to make this really successful is to practise slowing down and enthusing every single day.

The 10%

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Disclaimer: there are the one in ten that can get put off by a slow pace.

They cite professorial-type lectures as being ‘far too boring’.

I agree – that’s why your content and tone are so important.

But given that most of us present to mixed audiences, you have to play the numbers game.

Keeping your content simple so everyone understands it.

And slowing down – so everyone absorbs it.

Writing down ‘slow down’ on the top of your script is one way.

Another is to highlight certain words and phrases that need to linger in the air.

Whatever it takes, start today by lowering your pace to three words per second, and watch the effect it has.


Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications. You can view his full profile here.


Photo credit: Ian Sane@boetterJonnyScholesJames CridlandKrists Luhaers , Bench Accounting

14th August 2017 Featured in: Blog By:

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