We’re all aware of people in our office that seem to have the gift of the gab. Not only do they have a way with words, but they also seem to have an incredible knack of blurting them out at breakneck speed. It can often be an overwhelming experience to be on the receiving end of such a pitch, but does it really work? Would you be better at convincing your boss, clients or potential employers if you talked faster or slower?
Despite what one is often told about the merits of talking slowly, many a salesman (they’re always salesmen aren’t they?) continue to rattle out their words machine gun style. I’m often torn by their motivation, by whether they believe their long-windedness somehow displays exceptional subject knowledge, as opposed to what I often think of as an insecurity preventing the conversation from falling into silence. So what is the reality?
It’s worth remembering that it wasn’t all that long ago that fast talking was very much seen as a virtue. In 1976 Norman Miller conducted research suggesting that speeches delivered at 195 words per minute were more persuasive than those delivered at a more sedate, and natural,105 words per minute. Back then, this lower range was associated with the more simple amongst us.
Times have changed somewhat, but has the view on fast talking?
If we fast forward a few years to 1991, researchers tested out various speeds of speech to try and convince one group of participants that the legal drinking age should be kept as it is, whilst another group was convinced that it should be changed. This topic was chosen because it was topical at the time, seeing as America had recently upped its legal drinking age to 21.
Here is the interesting part. When the message was counter to what you originally believed, the faster the talk, the more persuasive it was. By contrast, when you preach to those who agreed with you, slower speech was more effective.
Why does this happen?
Well, so the thinking goes, if you’re talking to someone that has a natural inclination against what you’re saying, the slower you talk the more time you give them to contrive objections to what you’re saying. If you talk faster however, they are deprived of this luxury.
If the audience does agree with you, the same applies. If you talk quickly they don’t have time to digest it all and find that they agree with you. When it comes in slow, there’s plenty of time to evaluate the arguments, agree and be even more persuaded by what you’re saying.
The audience matters
It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we’re always told that when communicating, you should always do so with your audience in mind, and this certainly suggests that we should adapt our style depending upon our audience. Of course, the challenge then comes in learning enough about your audience (and having the skill) to adapt your speaking style accordingly.
The flip side of course, is that if you are a skeptic and someone is speaking to you incredibly quickly, you have every right to be wary of their intentions.
Have you given any thought to your own speaking style? Maybe these findings suggest that we should start by understanding just how quickly we talk ourselves. The easiest way is to record yourself speaking on your smartphone, and then simply count your word rate per minute. You can then use that information to practice your speech in work place situations. Who knows it might lead to a promotion or even a new job.
Do you talk fast or slow? Do you find it easy to convince people your opinion is correct? Your thoughts and comments below...