March 8, 2012
CRITERION #4: PACING
Fast, slow. Change gears. Slow it down.
And then slow it some more.
If I had to pick one criterion for effective public speaking that is most often overlooked, it’s Pacing. And the good news is that it’s easy to fix. Here’s the news – “Just take the time to listen”.
There are two seeds of instruction in this imperative.
First, “take the time”. Ninety percent of untrained speakers rush into their delivery with a burst of unfocused energy. It’s not surprising. There is a lot of pent-up anxiety… and anticipation. Finally, you are up there on-stage, in the spotlight, and you’re already feeling like you don’t really want to be there. It’s almost as though you believe that the faster you go, the quicker you will reach the end. You’re right. But it won’t be a satisfying conclusion for the audience. In this one instance, you are in control of Time – and you have to use that control wisely. Slow it down. And then slow it down some more. Really. Try it.
And, “listen”. If you can slow down your pacing to the point that you are actually listening to yourself – and noticing how you’re sounding – then you’ll be in the right place to manage your pacing effectively. Listen for the sound of your voice in the room; and let the walls speak back to you. You’ll have to stop what you’re saying to actually hear what you’re saying. If you follow my drift. Many speakers get nervous if the room isn’t filled with a seamless, uninterrupted stream of words from the beginning to the end of the speech. They think that silence is a problem. They’re wrong. It’s an essential part of the “dynamics” of the speech.
There are dynamics in every good piece of theatre; in every good piece of entertainment, in fact – film, music, sports, comedy… whatever. The ups and downs, the change of pace is a big part of what makes it entertaining. Consider your speech as a microcosm of an absorbing an exciting 90-minute movie. Give it a beginning, a middle and an end, and take your audience on a wild ride… from the restrained power of the boardroom scene, to the passion of the love scene, to the “edge of the seat” excitement of the car chase.
And listen to yourself on tape. Record your delivery, and play it back. Listen to what is being communicated by a pell-mell, helter-skelter delivery. If there is a sense of urgency to your speech, it may work for you to pick up the pace in certain sections… but it will be exhausting for your audience if you remain in overdrive for the whole speech. In fact, you’ll find that you’ll get a greater sense of urgency and drama if you juxtapose the fast pacing of a certain section with a pregnant pause, and a few, well-chosen words delivered very slowly and deliberately with pronounced, dramatic emphasis.