Tip #3

Public Speaking Basics: Mastering Timing

This is a step-by-step lesson about pacing, pausing, and fluency.

Mastering the moment lies at the heart of so many things in life, and the timing of your speeches is no different.  But, do you speak too quickly? Slurring your words isn’t the only problem that pops up.  Are you speaking at the right pace for listeners to really get what you’re saying; every point, every nuance?  Remember, you need to leave the audience feeling they understand exactly what you mean, and this is connected with timing.

Let’s begin with the length of your speech.  Every speaker is different, but most people fit into the range of 120 to 150 words per minute.  Impromptu speeches and improv are different, but, if you have a prepared speech, execute a word count.  Go to either the “tools” or “review” mode of your word processor, and you’ll see the “word count” icon.  After that, divide the total number of words by the number of minutes in your program.  If you end up with let’s say 180 words per minute, you have a problem and you need to pare down the length of your speech.

This leads me to my next point.  Most beginners speak too fast.  On top of that, most people aren’t very objective about themselves, so listening to a recording of your speech may not help you slow down.  The best approach is to ask someone to listen.  If that’s not possible, the next best thing is to time yourself.  For example, if you know that you should deliver about 240 words at the two-minute mark of your speech, and your stopwatch says 1:30 seconds, you need to adjust.  Keep practicing, be mindful, and above all, remember that your top priority is for the audience to fully absorb what you’re saying.  You already know the message.  They don’t.  Transmit the ideas like a mom feeds her baby.  The right timing will create a stronger bond with the audience.

The next thing to consider is how pausing can enhance your speech.  There are short pauses and long ones.  If you have a script, I recommend marking places where you want short pauses with a slash.  If you want a long pause, or what’s known as a pregnant pause, use two slashes.  Speakers commonly use pauses for dramatic effect, but they’re great for comedy, too.  When you rehearse, experiment with pause variety.  Short pauses are good, but, keep the audience on their toes and use a pregnant one now and then when the time is right.

Last on the list is fluency.  The best way to avoid awkward pauses during your speech is to practice.  Yes, it pays off.  Do you remember what I said in the video about “Managing Stage Fright”?  The Rule of Seven helps calm you down, and it also helps with fluency.  By the way, feel free to paraphrase.  It will help your fluency, too.

The best speeches flow.  After a while, your words won’t just flow, you will take on a more poised, confident, exuberant quality because you are breathing life into words on paper.  Try it, and you’ll see.  You, too, can master the moment, leaving the audience knowing exactly what you mean.

Last modified: July 2, 2020
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