Whoa, Nelly!

By Heather Baldwin

In today’s business world, speed is everything. Smart salespeople carry cell phones because voice mail can be too slow; they carry laptops because waiting until they get back to the office to answer e-mails can be a deal killer. Even technologies like cell phones and overnight deliveries that seemed the epitome of speedy connections only a year or two ago are now being overtaken by even faster technologies such as instant messaging and documents sent via e-mail. Yet there’s one place speed can kill: presentations. Deliver your sales presentation at the same warp speed at which the rest of your life moves and you’ll leave your audience in confusion and the deal in your competitor’s hands.

Why? If you speak too fast, “people won’t have enough time to absorb what you’re saying and they’re not going to get your message,” says Patricia Fripp, a San Francisco-based executive speech coach, past-president of the National Speakers Association and author of Make It, So You Don’t Have to Fake It! And if they’re not getting your message, chances are they aren’t going to buy from you.

So how do you know if you’re speaking too fast? First, watch and listen for audience cues. If someone looks puzzled or asks you to slow down and repeat what you just said, chances are you’re speaking with the throttle to the firewall and need to slow your speaking pace. Another way to tell, says Fripp, is to tape record yourself giving a presentation. One playback and you’ll know if your rate of speech is too fast, too slow or just right. Recording an actual presentation – not a rehearsal – is key because presentation-day jitters can cause you to pick up a speaking pace that might sound fine when practicing in the comfort of your living room. Finally, just ask someone. Friends, co-workers, relatives – ask them if you tend to speak too quickly and listen carefully to what they have to say.

If you decide you need to downshift and move your speaking pace into the slow lane, the good news is that there’s a simple three-step fix. First, says Fripp, simply being aware that you may be speaking too fast will go a long way towards helping you slow down. Second, practice pausing for about three seconds at the end of every sentence. It may feel strange, but it will give your audience time to absorb what you’ve just said. Finally, she says, corral a team member, spouse or sales manager, get them to sit through a practice run of your presentation and ask them to raise their hand every time you start talking too fast or when they think you need to pause a little longer. Your audience will thank you for it!

Fripp can be reached at (800) 634-3035 or www.fripp.com.