Talking Fast

My previous post about my LCA mini-conf talk received an interesting comment from Christopher Neugebauer.

He said that he had some trouble understanding me because I speak quickly, he wasn’t the first person to make that complaint (it’s the most common complaint I receive). If a talk goes well then I have a lot to say and little time to say it and end up speaking quickly if I don’t concentrate enough on speaking slowly. If a talk doesn’t go well then I get nervous and speak quickly.

When a speaker talks too quickly it is appropriate to call out a request for them to speak more slowly. I know I’m not the only person who has difficulty in speaking slowly enough and I expect that others also wouldn’t mind such requests from the audience.

Chris suggested giving a talk with a small number of words used on the projector, it’s an interesting idea and may be worth a try. However I have recently watched Lawrence Lessig’s talk published on [1] which used that technique, I was disappointed in the result. His talk appeared to be very well received by the audience, I’m not sure whether that is because the audience was less familiar with his ideas than I am or whether it’s a technique that works better for an audience than for a video.

I would appreciate further suggestions in this regard.

Update: It’s interesting to note that Bruce Schneier’s keynote for LCA had no presentation material, he spoke from written notes.

2 comments to Talking Fast

  • Shannon

    One of the techniques I believe they advise in public speaking courses is to “create a character” that you become when you’re speaking. In other words, you imagine the style of confidence, tone of voice, and delivery methods that your “ideal self” would have, and then you focus on becoming that character when you’re speaking, the same way an actor projects himself into a acting role. This way, you remain partially mentally focused on the presentation, rather than getting carried away into unconscious over-enthusiasm by focusing solely on just the content.

    It is a trade-off, of course, in that you may not get to cover all your intended material. But you need to also think about how much of a content-driven but badly presented speech that loses audience attention will actually get absorbed and retained by the audience. As compared to a perhaps less detailed but more exciting speech with zing and character, the delivery of which makes nodding heads spring back to alert interest and higher information retention.

  • vid


    Try talking/rehearsing in front of the mirror. It works because I get to see how
    strange I look when i am nervously speaking fast or gesturing too much or am too stiff and rigidly boring sometimes, all of which makes a person babel faster.

    The mirror helps to monitor the body language or the lack of it and also voice, speed and pitch (tells if you are nervous). While talking I keep a keyword tree (the binary) in mind so if the talk goes on a complete tangent, leaving me with less time to cover other points, i just link it back to another nested part of the topic i want to cover and work upwards or branch around it.

    I hope I made sense and it helps :)