Research estimates that in today’s fast-paced business world, eight out of 10 people speak too fast.

If you find that people often ask you to repeat yourself, or you feel breathless after speaking to colleagues, you may be crossing the verbal speed limit.

You may think that speaking fast is a result of your high energy levels; or perhaps you think it projects an image of efficiency. Remember that the key to communication, however, is not efficiency, but effectiveness.

Effectiveness is determined by how well your audience, be it one person or 100, understands your message correctly, that is, no misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

When you sacrifice effectiveness for “efficiency”, you overlook the impact it has on your listeners. Here are some ways talking too fast may affect your audience’s perception of you:

•  Less clarity: If you speak fast, you are not enunciating properly. You may be constantly asked to repeat yourself as people cannot catch what you have said. That affects efficiency too.

•  Less credibility: Studies show that salesmen who speak fast tend to lose more prospects. Your potential clients will turn off their attention in the first two minutes if they have difficulty following you. They will also lose trust in you.

•  Less confidence: If you speak too fast during your presentations, you may be perceived as being nervous and less confident. That is not the image you want to leave with your audience.

When your audience does not respond to you because they can’t figure out what you have said, you may think it is because your presentation is dull and they don’t like you. This will affect your confidence and self-esteem — and for the wrong reason.

Leave the fast lane

You may have tried to slow down with little success. This is because speaking too fast is a habit. To change that, you need a strategy. You have to get to the root of the problem. To get started, practise these techniques:

•  Breathe properly: When you speak fast, your breathing is shallow. It comes from the top of your lungs. Take a deep breath and be aware of the support of your diaphragm. When your voice is supported by deep breathing, it will not only slow down by itself, but will sound richer, more composed and confident.

•  Relax your jaw: When you speak too fast, your mouth does not open much and only your lips are making a rapid movement. If you put your hands on your jaw area, you will find that your jaw is barely moving. This explains why your listeners cannot hear you clearly; your words are getting stuck in your mouth. To correct this, do a few jaw-opening exercises by saying the word “ah” several times. This will help open and relax your jaws. When your jaws are open, you will slow down the pace of your speech.

•  Shift your focus: Fast talkers focus too much on the content, that is, whatever they want to convey. They forget to check whether their listeners are on the same page, whether they have understood the message so far and whether they are frustrated by the speed of the delivery.

If your listeners are not following you, you have simply failed to communicate your message to them. Your presentation has been a waste of time — theirs and yours.

To avoid this situation, make sure you focus on your listeners. Be concerned about whether they are digesting what you have said, and you will naturally slow down the pace of your delivery.

When you attempt to sincerely engage your audience, you will create a rapport with them — and gain their attention and trust more easily.

Learn to speak more effectively — this is one area in your worklife where your chances of success are better when you slow down.

Article by Cynthia Zhai, an executive voice coach, speaker and trainer. For more information, e-mail or visit