A friend of mine recently earned her doctorate degree and as I sat through the commencement ceremony I watched one speaker after the next make a common public speaking mistake. Every time the speaker stumbled on a word or misspoke, he accelerated his speaking pace, trying to somehow catch up with his cadence. This isn’t a gender trait. Every female made the same mistake. The awkward acceleration accompanies a surge in adrenaline that speakers feel when misspeak to a large audience. That’s natural. But the natural inclination to speed up and catch up is a mistake.
When you stumble across a word or a phrase don’t speed up. Slow down. Here’s why: Your thoughts move at the speed of electricity. Your mouth only moves at about the speed of someone with good keyboard skills—about 110-140 words per minute, max. In other words, your mouth can never catch up to your thoughts. You can rush like a maniac, but you won’t catch up. You’ll just wind up sounding like a maniac. But if you work it the other way around the results will amaze you. The next time you stumble in a speech or presentation, pause. Slow down. In an instant your thoughts will re-synchronize with your mouth. This is especially true if you’re reading a speech.
The pause and slower pace resets the delicate balance between your thoughts and your mouth. It also puts your audience at ease and helps your audience relate to you.
Your audience will gladly forgive the occasional stumble over a word or phrase—as long as you don’t panic and try to speed up to catch up. Slowing down and pausing lets your audience know you don’t panic. When you relax so does your audience. Don’t sprint through your next stumble. Slow down. You’ll probably get through your speech or presentation faster because you will avoid talking yourself into more mistakes by not talking too fast.