How to Pace Yourself When Speaking

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  • 0:01 Pacing Yourself
  • 0:45 Practicing & Prep
  • 2:55 On the Day
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

It's perfectly normal to start talking faster when you're nervous, but it does make you harder to understand. Here's how to get it under control and maintain a regular speaking pace.

Pacing Yourself

Talking faster when you're nervous is a perfectly normal reaction. Plenty of people do it. But it does make you hard to understand, and sometimes it can even set off a vicious cycle where talking faster makes you even more nervous than you were before. That's why it's important to learn to pace yourself, to control how fast you're speaking.

In this lesson, you'll get some tips and strategies for getting the nervous speed-up under control. We'll start with practice strategies - these are things you can do beforehand to prepare yourself for a smooth and well-paced speech. Then, we'll go over some techniques you can use as you're actually speaking to keep your words from running away with you.

Practicing & Prep

Pacing yourself well isn't a switch you can flip on and off. It's something you have to learn through practice. Think of it as a habit you have to develop. Here are some tips and techniques to use as you're practicing for the big day:

Practice with a metronome. A metronome is an instrument that musicians use to keep the beat - basically, you can tell it how many times you want it to beep every minute, and the metronome will automatically tick away at a steady pace. You can also get metronome videos online if you don't have a physical one. To practice with a metronome, re-create the speaking situation you're practicing for and deliver a pretend speech. Match your speaking pace to the beat of the metronome and let the steady ticking serve as a kind of background reminder to talk at the same pace. This will help you avoid the instinct to speed up as you go along.

If you will have a time limit, practice with that. Many kinds of public speaking give you a set time limit. You might have to give a 10-minute class presentation or speak for 1 minute on a standardized test. If that's the case, practice with that time limit ahead of time. This will help you get a feel for how fast you need to talk to fit the time and how much information you can really fit in at a normal speaking pace.

Think about why you speak fast and take steps to address those issues ahead of time. Is it because you're nervous? Careful planning and practicing in situations that simulate the actual event can often help with that. Is it because you're trying to say more things than you can realistically fit into the time you have? That's a completely different problem; for that, you'll need to write down the outline of your points and decide what non-essential items you can cut. Remember that it's better to say one thing well than two things badly.

On the Day

You've practiced, you've prepared, and now it's crunch time. Here are some strategies you can use when you actually have to get up and speak.

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