Pace & Pause – 6 strategies for speaking under pressure

In the last few weeks I have trained three groups at various stages of their career in business: from school leavers, to graduates, to successful managers. All three cohorts placed the desire to control the speed of speech delivery, and to use pause, in their top three of communication skills needs.

Let’s have a closer look at why people speak fast when under pressure – and how to fix it.

BlissImg1As covered in my last BBS Blog article, when we are nervous the body translates that as tension, which in turn upsets our vocal capabilities, and particularly our breathing. If you release held tension, and slow your breathing, that will go a long way to controlling pace of speech.

Try thinking about it in these terms: you are feeding what’s in your head to the listener/s ears. As with feeding a baby, you need to ensure that you don’t feed too fast, or too slow, and that you wait occasionally for it to go down.

 Some strategies:

  • threeimgBreathe slower and deeper. If you are tense, especially somewhere in the lower limbs, this can lead to lower abdominal tension, which prevents the runningmandiaphragm from dropping. This in turn forces you to use the much smaller top part of the lungs – causing you to race to the end of the sentence so that you can take another breath. Establish slow, deep breathing before you start.
  • Use  clearly articulated word endings. Just the effort of getting your lips and tongue goggleeyesaround the all-important final consonant will put the brakes on.
  • Alter pace. To keep the listeners engaged, try going a bit faster on bits you are excited about, and slow down to explain detail.
  • Use eye–contact.
    Alter your delivery according to what you see. Pause when you see they need to take in a big thought.
  • Fill the pause with breath.
    If you temporarily stop breathing when you pause, you will have broken the link between you and your audience.
  • At the start, deliberately slow the pace, and pause (breathed) before you speak. As you commence, those listening are processing all sorts of information about your clothes, shoes, hair etc. They also need to settle into the task of listening. Breathe-in the audience before speaking.

Philip Bliss is a communication skills coach with clients in finance, law and education. He regularly guest lectures at Brunel Business School as part of the Business Life programme and in Stockholm School of Economics.

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