Refining Your Speaking Skills – The Importance of Tempo

In public speaking, when you express from a place of genuine connection with yourself and your story, most of the skills you need are already in place. That’s why you may be great when speaking one-to-one and in small groups but then lose your capacity in front of a large audience.

When you’re “home” with friends and colleagues, your volume varies according to what you are speaking about, your gestures are natural when you leave your hands free to move, your eye contact is authentic, and your body language matches what you are saying. That’s because you are coming from what’s real rather than an idea of what a speaker is supposed to do. Your assignment now is to bring that same ease to the speaking platform by making a few small adjustments in your everyday, interpersonal communications.

The tempo, or pace, of your speaking allows people to track your words and take them in. Whether you talk rapidly or slowly, the key is to vary speed. A shift in pacing can wake people up, just as a sudden silence can cause an audience to sit on the edges of their seats to hear what you will say next. Practice these four speaking tips for effective communication.

Tool #1. The Much-Maligned Period

End your sentences. This is not as easy as it sounds. Listen to yourself and you will discover just how difficult it can be. I’ve coached people who can talk about a wonderful subject for five minutes without inserting a period. By the end the audience is lost. Completing every sentence is a simple tool that will instantly improve all of your communications.

Tool #2. The Pause That Refreshes

We’ve all heard the pause for effect, contrived for the purpose of manipulating an audience’s emotional response. Yet this orator’s tool can be used as a heartfelt expression. When you are authentic, you will naturally pause to reflect or to allow the enormity of something to be absorbed by both yourself and your audience. Again, the key is variety so people stay with you. A pause signals what you most want others to consider. It is also a stunning substitute for filler words such as “and” and “so” and sounds such as “uh” and “ummm.” It is much better for an audience to perceive you as thoughtful rather than out of touch or lost.

Tool #3. Slow Down

You’ve heard speakers who naturally speak at a very fast clip. Many of us tend to talk too fast when we feel nervous, with the goal to get through this awful thing as fast as possible. Wrong! Slowing down allows the depth of feeling you have for your subject to surface.

It is crucial to slow down when you want to make a point that is central to your message. If you’re a fast talker and find yourself moving quickly through a central theme, slow down right then and there and r-e-p-e-a-t it e-v-e-r so s-l-o-w-l-y. Otherwise, it will get lost in your runaway speech pattern, to which people entrain and zone out. Until you master your pacing, your speaking will lack the punch it needs to bring your core message home.

Tool #4. Resume Speed

If you’re a slow talker, the practice of picking up your tempo is also very important. When you loll along at a snail’s pace, the audience begins daydreaming, engaging with their own mental chatter, which is much faster than the speed of the sound of your voice.

The disciplines outlined above require that you become aware of your speaking habits so you can integrate the changes you wish to make as a natural part of your expression. Begin applying these skills now to enliven your communications every day, even before you develop and deliver a presentation. Include them as you explore your stories and bring them into your daily conversation.

If the rigor implied by the word “discipline” turns you off, consider its root meaning: a “disciple unto oneself.” That’s the inner call to excellence that will support you in becoming the catalyst of the changes you most want to effect.

With appreciation for your voice in the world, Gail.

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© Gail Larsen 2009. All rights reserved. Real Speaking is a registered trademark. Permission to reprint: You may reprint this article in your own print or electronic newsletter. Please include the following statement: Reprinted from Transformational Speaking: If You Want to Change the World, Tell a Better Story (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press and Brilliance Audio), by Gail Larsen.

Gail Larsen is the founder of Real Speaking®, the premier presentations program for people of purpose and catalysts of change. She supports people in discovering the speech they were born to give to the audience they are destined to serve. In addition to authoring Transformational Speaking, Gail is an accomplished speaker and workshop leader who supports her audiences in navigating life’s journey of growth and change with joy and insight. Combining practical information, humor, and stimulating perspective, Gail recognizes the unique character of each audience and adapts her presentations accordingly. Drawing from a rich repertoire of knowledge, stories, expertise, poetry, and indigenous wisdom, her work is informed by her work with Real Speaking since 1991 and three years as founding partner of the JourneyWell Center for Integrative Health. To contact Gail or learn more about Real Speaking, visit

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