How to optimize the speed, tempo or cadence of your communication. Learn about typical conversation rates, and how to customize your communication to maximize engagement and comprehension. Are you a fast-talker?

 

CONTENTS

  • Summary
  • Resources
  • Transcript

SUMMARY: Are You a FAST-Talker?

Instead of focusing on your speech rate or words-per-minute (WPM), consider the ENGAGEMENT and the COMPREHENSION of our audience.  Cadence is the means, not the end goal.  Cadence is one ingredient in communication.

FAST TALKING FACTS:

  • Slow talking is considered to be anything <110 wpm.  That’s < 2 words per second.  
  • Conversational speech is between 120-150 wpm 
  • Fast-talking is more than 160 wpm
  • Podcasters typically speak at about 150–160 wpm.
  • Auctioneers speak in the range of 250-400 wpm.

 

  • Fast talkers convey urgency, passion, excitement, and emotion, 
  • Slow talkers convey significance 

 

3 Ways to Use CADENCE to Improve your Communication:

  1. Ask a trusted colleague or two for feedback.  
  2. If necessary, measure your speech rate 
    1. Record yourself and divide the number of words by the number of minutes in your speech.  
  3. Customize your cadence

 

How to CUSTOMIZE YOUR CADENCE

  • Customization as in VARYING your pace, trying a combination of fast and slow. Firing through some things, then Pausing for effect.  
  • Customize for your AUDIENCE – Slow down if you use a language or have an accent that’s less familiar to your audience.
  • Customize the SEQUENCE – Vary the order and or media through which you’re communicating, depending on the context and the person. Always respect people’s TIME.

RESOURCES

Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk 


TRANSCRIPT

Are you a fast-talker?

I’ve always wondered why auctioneers have to talk so fast.  We’ll get to that in a few minutes.  But more importantly, are YOU a fast-talker? Or maybe you talk too slow? Or maybe you’re not sure?

In the next 30 minutes or so, you’re going to learn about the impact of cadence, as in tempo or pace, on our communication, how we can use our pacing to optimize our communication effectiveness.

Are you ready?

Greetings and welcome to Talk About Talk episode number 113. I’m your executive communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!). And I‘m so glad you’re here! I have to say:  I’m so conscious of my pace right now. But since you’re listening to this podcast, you probably know that you can change the pace of this audio.  You can just click a button on your podcast player to slow me down to .5 or speed me up to 1.25 or 1.5. So I suppose I should just relax.  

OK – If you’re an ambitious executive with a growth mindset, then you’re in the right place. You’ve probably spent years learning how to do your job – the technical skills. When you look at the successful folks around you, you might notice that what differentiates these successful people typically isn’t their technical skills.  Rather, it’s their executive presence.  Their confidence.  The clarity of their message. It’s their communication. Now it’s time for you to up your game by focusing on YOUR communication. And that’s EXACTLY what we’re all about here at Talk About Talk.

If you go to the TAT.com website, you’ll find so many resources to help you out. There are online courses, tip sheets, corporate workshops, one-on-one coaching, some new opportunities for live group coaching programs, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk communication coaching newsletter. This is your chance to get a few communication skills tips from me every week. Please sign up for that communication coaching newsletter if you haven’t already.

One other thing you’ll notice on the website: there’s a button that says “RECORD YOUR Q FOR ANDREA”. I love hearing from you so much, so I’m inviting you to record your communication skills Qs for me.  My plan is to create a whole episode with your Qs and my answers.  You can also send me an email asking you Q.  That’s what Steven Kenee did a few weeks ago. Steven’s a senior investment professional in Farnham, England.

Let me read you the short email from Steven: (a-hem)

Hi Andrea
Love the podcast, thank you so much for all the work you do on it.
My question is about managing speed. I am one of these people that can slow down when presenting but tend to speed up and talk at the rate of my brain when in discussion.
Any help is appreciated!
Many thanks 

Steven

I replied to Steven immediately, and learned more about his challenges with pacing. I told him his timing was PERFECT (yah, I got that – his TIMING was perfect), since I was already thinking about this episode focused on Fast-Talkers and the importance of cadence. 

And If you listened to the most recent TalkAboutTalk episode focused on IMPACT where I interviewed Deloitte sr. partner Jennifer Lee, you MIGHT recall that one of Jen’s many suggestions for us is to focus on CADENCE.  Here’s Jennifer:

When you present material, the cadence of how it gets managed is really important. I’ve now gotten into this cadence. you’ve got to get good at managing time.

So it seems the stars are aligning. We’ve GOT to talk about cadence and pacing. But before we go any further, I HAVE to say this!  As you’re listening, you don’t have to take notes, because I do that for you. As always, I summarize the main points at the end for you. There’s also a summary in the shownotes. So you can just sit back and relax, or keep doing whatever you’re doing, driving, walking… you know the drill. You listen, I take notes and summarize at the end. You’re welcome.

Alright let’s get into this.  Let’s start with some background on how the pace of your speech affects your speech.  Let me bring the clock back to 1961. U.S. president John F. Kennedy broke the Guinness Book of World Records. During a speech, he used 327 words in one minute. That’s about 3 times faster than the normal conversation rate. To put that in context, imagine using that button on your podcast app to 3x, to increase my tempo 3x. I don’t know about you , but when I’m listening to books and podcasts, the fastest rate that I can comprehend is usually about 1.5x.

So you’re probably wondering whether JFK was a fast-talker. The answer is NO. During his inaugural address, he slowed down his speaking rate to 96.5 words per minute. That’s also a record.  That’s the slowest inauguration speech.  

So we could say that JFK was a master of pacing. Call it pace, or cadence, speech rate, tempo, rhythm. Whatever you call it, it certainly makes a big difference. 

Are you wondering the same thing I am?  What exactly was JFK trying to implicitly communicate when he spoke quickly versus when he spoke so slowly?  He broke records for being the slowest AND the fastest. Obviously he did so with purpose.  And for that matter, back to the other Q I asked. WHY is it that auctioneers talk so darn fast?  

Are you feeling hypnotized? They actually call that auctioneer tempo a CHANT  Yes, a chant.  As in they are encouraging the audience at the auction, the bidders, into an almost hypnotized state.  

The fast pace also keeps the bidders engaged.  Of course a fast pace also conveys a sense of urgency. 

In one paper I read by psychologist and communication professor Howard Giles, there’s a positive relationship between perceived tempo and perceived competence of speakers – people who speak faster are perceived as more competent).[14]

According to what I read, Fast talking: conveys urgency, passion, excitement, and emotion. 

Slow speech, on the other hand, conveys significance.  And sometimes sadness or confusion, the seriousness of a point or the introduction of new ideas (used to help the audience grasp what you are saying).

Here are some speech rate guidelines:

  • Slow talking is considered to be anything less than less than 110 wpm.  So think, less than 2 words her second.  That’s slow
  • Conversational speech is between 120 to 150 wpm 
  • And Fast-talking is more than 160 wpm
  • Podcasters typically speak at about 150–160 wpm.
  • Auctioneers, like the one you just heard, can speak between in the range of 250 to 400 wpm.

What’s at least as interesting as the measured, objective WPM, is the perception of your pace or tempo.  In other words, whether your communication is clear and being internalized.  Ideally, your audience, or the person with whom you’re communicating shouldn’t even be conscious of your speech rate. 

You can affect the clarity of your message by pausing for emphasis and by varying your cadence. By customizing your tempo. We’ll get into that more in a minute.

But that reminds me of my own experience with understanding what people are saying.  Have you ever noticed that when you’re communicating with who’s speaking in a language or with an accent that you’re less accustomed to, that you’re often wishing they’d slow down?  Yah, that’s a common thing.  We speak English in our household, and some of us speak Polish. We also live in Canada, where French is taught as a second language.  My three teens even went to a fully French school for some time. I, on the other hand, only did French as a second language class.  So their French is way way better than mine. I guess they never caught on to the fact that if they just talked FAST to each other in French, they would have their own secret language.(Don’t tell them, ok?)

My point here is that if you want to improve the clarity of your message and you’re speaking with what might be an unfamiliar accent with someone, SLOW DOWN! 

The other point here is about the difference in speech rate between different languages. When we hear people using different languages we often believe they have different speech rates or cadence. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but in several research papers I found, comparing English, French, Japanese, Finnish, German and Spanish, there was no significant differences in speech rate between the languages. 

However, there were highly significant differences between the speaking stylesAs my friend voice coach Judith Weinman told me, every language has a different MUSIC. Yes, music. A different rhythm. We’re talking pausing, intonation, tone, inflection. These are the sound patterns, the music of our first language. And this is what compromises accents.  

We ALL have an accent! But we aren’t conscious of it until someone’s accent sounds different from ours. Am I right?

So let’s move on to what we should be striving for, when we think about our communication cadence.

WHAT TO STRIVE FOR

Have you ever noticed how it’s relatively common for us to notice others talking at a rate that we perceive as too fast?  Sometimes it might be because they’re nervous or because they have an unfamiliar accent that makes it difficult for us to understand.  But regardless, fast-talking isn’t that uncommon. On the other hand, it seems like people rarely talk too slow…

When I was doing research for this episode, I read an article that said (and I quote) “The ultimate goal is to speak at a conversational pace. “ I have to say that I disagree. The ultimate goal is to engage and to be understood. 

Your pace or cadence is one ingredient to optimize two things:

  1. attention or engagement AND 
  2. their comprehension or clarity. 

I want to discourage you from thinking about your speech rate or cadence as a goal in itself.  Instead, strive for engagement and comprehension.  Your speech rate is a means or an ingredient for engagement and comprehension.

And the cadence is not just the speech rate in terms of words per minute.  It’s also how the information is laid out.  This is related to what Jennifer Lee mentioned in the last episode focused on communicating with impact. The other person, in Jennifer’s case, her consulting client, their engagement and comprehension is affected not just by her cadence in terms of her words per minute, but perhaps more importantly on how the information is laid out.  The order of what is addressed, even the medium. Jennifer talked about pre-issuing material, customizing the order of what’s being presented, and being very mindful of time.  Respecting people’s TIME.  That’s key here.  So challenge yourself to consider not just your words per minute.  That’s your output. What’s probably more important is the sequence and comprehension of what the other person is internalizing.

That leads me to probably the most important content for you here – my:

3 SUGGESTIONS FOR HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR CADENCE

Of course I have three suggestions.  The power of 3.  They are:

  1. Customizing
  2. Seeking feedback
  3. And how to measure your speech rate.

FIRST – CUSTOMIZING. Customize your cadence.  I mean this in a few different ways:

  • There’s customizing as in varying your pace.  Remember I said our communication goal is to be engaging and clear. You could speak in a completely steady, even pace . But this will come off as monotone and boring. Instead, try a combination of fast and slow. Fire through some things, then Pause for effect.  This will make your  speech more engaging. SO that’s the first way to customize your cadence. 
  • Also, Customize for your audience – Again, your goal is engagement and comprehension.  
    • If you have an accent that’s less familiar with your audience, the first thing you should probably do is SLOW DOWN.
    • And regardless of the language and accent situation, you should customize the order or sequence of what you’re presenting, and maybe the medium.  Pre-issue materials, if you need to. Above all else, respect people’s time. This is all about time and timing, right?
    • And related to that, one thing you might’ve noticed that I do to encourage your comprehension of the materials in these episodes is that I repeat myself.  This relates to the sequencing idea.  I always tell you at the beginning what you’ll learn in the episode.  Then I share the material, then I summarise.  I tell you what I’m gonna tell you, then I tell you, then I tell you what I told you. Ironically, sometimes repeating things will help people’s comprehension, but ironically repeating things can actually help people comprehend things faster! 

 

So the first suggestion for how to optimize cadence is CUSTOMIZATION.

The second is FEEDBACK.  If you’re wondering whether your cadence might be an issue for you in terms of garnering engagement and comprehension, 

Ask a trusted colleague for feedback  

  • You might want to ask them in a more open-ended way.  Instead of asking “what do you think about the pace or cadence of my speech?” ask “any feedback about my speech?”
  • If you do learn that you’re talking too slow (or more likely too fast), think about the customization suggestions I just mentioned.  You might also want to physically measure your pace.  This is my 3rd suggestion for how to optimize your cadence. 

Measure your Pace 

  • Remember I said that Conversational speech is between 120 and 150 wpm and podcasters typically speak at about 150–160 wpm.  The Q is, are you really talking faster than 160 WPM, or is it your sequence, your intonation, the variation and the other things I’ve mentioned that are the issue?
  • One way to find out definitively is to measure your pace. Record yourself.  
  • If you google this, you’ll find lots of suggestions about recording yourself reading children’s stories or technical manuals and then counting words and timing it.
  • But I have an easier suggestion.  Use the communication tools and technology that you probably have, right in front of you.  Record yourself giving a speech or leading a meeting.  Then you can time yourself from the recording, and you can Count the words you used from a transcript. This isn’t complicated math. Simply divide the number of words by the number of minutes in your speech

 

So those are the 3 SUGGESTIONS FOR HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR CADENCE

  1. Customizing
  2. Seeking feedback
  3. And if necessary, measure your speech rate.

Now, as promised, as always, I’m going to quickly summarize what we’ve covered.

Generally in terms of tempo, we talk at 120-150WPM.  Auctioneers hit up to 400 WPM.  Your rate of speech implicitly impacts how you are perceived.  Fast talkers convey urgency, passion, excitement, and emotion, while slow talkers convey significance. The point is, the perception of your cadence matters.

But instead of focusing on your WPM, I suggest you think about the ENGAGEMENT and the COMPREHENSION of our audience.  Use your cadence as a tool to improve engagement and comprehension. How?  Well, like I just said, ask a trusted colleague or two for feedback.  And if you think it might be an issue, you can measure your speech tempo by recording yourself and dividing the number of words by the number of minutes in your speech.  

One of the key takeaways I hope you got from this episode is the significance of CUSTOMIZATION

  • Customization as in varying your pace, trying a combination of fast and slow. Firing through some things, then Pausing for effect.  
  • Also, Customize for your audience – slowing down if you have an accent that’s less familiar to your audience, 
  • There’s also customizing the order or sequence of what you’re presenting, and respecting people’s TIME.

It really is all about time, isn’t it?  Time is the one resource that we all value. I encourage you to think about your time, your audience’s time, and the pacing of your communication.  This is an ingredient of communication that might be underleveraged, and that you now have the know-how to leverage to help you communicate so that people pay attention and understand your message.

Speaking of time, mine’s up.  Before I go though, I want to encourage you to check out the talkabouttalk.com website. I’m slowly updating it, every week, to make it a more helpful resource for you. On the homepage you’ll see some information about the November 2022 one-month Job seekers boot camp. Yes, it’s starting in just a few days after this episode is released. So please check it out right now! You’ll learn the strategic principles of networking, how to confidently articulate your personal brand, and how to optimize your LinkedIn profile.

While you’re on the talkabouttalk,com website, I also hope you’ll sign up for the communication skills coaching newsletter. That way you’ll get communication coaching from me every week in a simple to digest email.  You’ll also get reminders for recently released podcast episodes.

That’s it for episode #113!  That went by fast. THANKS for LISTENING. Talk soon!

  • Email: Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com

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