Slow down for Success!

One of the fastest ways to ruin a presentation is to talk too fast.  (I guess you got that bit of humor)

You know the story.  Starting too fast while sharing your message and you can’t slow down.  You begin talking faster and faster.  You know you’re doing it but you are unable to slow down.  I’ve got a tip for that which I’ll share later, but first let’s stop the speed from picking up in the first place.

If you normally talk too fast, and you know who you are, practice by reading some material from a magazine, a book, newspaper, or Gary Montgomery’s blog.  When you see a period, stop.  When you see a comma, stop.  When you see a semi-colon, or colon, stop.  Stop for a count of five.  You probably thought “five seconds, that’s too long!”  I agree if you are reading to an audience but what you are doing is practicing and the best practice begins with exaggeration.  Stop so that you recognize you are stopping and stepping out of what you normally do and you recognize you are learning something new. 

To use an analogy from coaching kids in baseball and softball, I’ve had young players try to make the throw to first too fast.  After a great catch on the ground ball, she rushes the throw and the runner is safe at first.  We need to adjust thinking.  So I teach them to pat their glove three times after catching the ground ball and count each pat, out loud (it’s usually slower when you say it out loud.)  It gives her time to position her feet and see the target, the girl playing first base, before throwing.  No we aren’t going to normally do that in a game (although some have) but this is learning.  We need to exaggerate to learn.

Step number two is to start slow.  Not just start talking slow but make the mental approach to the stage or the lectern slow.  Think slow as you are introduced.  Walk slowly to the front of the room.  Speak slowly when you thank the person introducing you (be sure to get their name so you can share it.  People are listening.)

As you face your audience and start to speak;  wait.  It may feel a little uncomfortable but use your five second count again, (not out loud this time.) Look left, look right, smile, feel your feet grounded on the floor or stage.  Now you are ready to begin …s..l..o..w..l..y. Know what words you are going to use.  I’ve seen many start talking at this point and not know where they are going.  Know your open, your story, know what you are trying to accomplish in the open.  Your slow start and intentional pauses will put you at ease and your audience will be comfortable because you are comfortable.

And here’s the tip I promised in case it happens that you do begin talking too fast and feel you can’t slow down;  just stop.  Try to make it appear you are stopping on purpose.  Perhaps a drink if you have water nearby (if not you should).  Attempt to find a reason to pause in your presentation;  stop to draw attention to a particular word or point you are making.  Make the stop feel like a pause for effect.  But even if you are unable to have a reason to stop, just stop; smile and breathe.  It might look a little irregular but it is better than gasping for air and becoming anxious because you are going too fast and can’t slow down.

Bottom line: prepare.  Think slow, start slow, and get comfortable being with a group of people who need to hear your message.

A lot more great ideas at Gary’s presentation skills seminar coming up in Louisville, KY, September 17, 2015,  “Making Magic in the Front of the Room..”  For more information go to, or call Gary at 502.339.0040.