What is Happening Behind the Curtain When Someone Talks at Breakneck Speed

In my last couple of postings, I mentioned how talking fast (in the perception of the listener) may not be so readily solved by simply slowing down. That is, telling someone to “slow down” may not be great advice.

Why not?

Thinking s-l-o-w-l-y and cognitively “trying to slow down” may not result in the effect the listener is hoping for. Let’s face it, as listeners, we want listening to be an enjoyable activity. We don’t want to experience listening fatigue from trying to understand someone.  Someone spewing out verbal data at breakneck speed is not a pleasant experience for anyone. So, understandably, we just want the speed to slow so we can get some relief.

Why doesn’t that advice work?

If we look at things from the speaker’s perspective, we get a different picture. The most common response to “Why can’t you just slow down?” is often, “I try, but I just can’t do it.”

There may be at least 3 different reasons why people talk sssssooooo fast, and some people may speed along for more than one reason.


1. The person may be compensating for not being sure about grammatical speech or pronunciation, word stress, and intonation patterns in English. The thought being “if I say it fast, no one will notice.”

How do you know if this is the case?

Typically, speakers who are thinking this will say each word too quickly. If you listen carefully, the person isn’t fully forming many of the words you hear. Your brain is filling in the details based on context, but the person isn’t really completing the words. This can make a person sound like s/he is talking too fast. In this case, slowing down when not presenting or in meetings (behind the scenes) and fully forming words and using correct grammar when there is enough time to think about it can inform the brain and change the pattern. Learning the word stress and intonation patterns of English, figuring out where their blind spots and oversights are and fixing them will go a long way towards informing their brains when speaking in public in real time.


2. The person may have articulation patterns that are unclear and be using them mistakenly, thinking they are using the right ones.

How do you know if this is the case?

The person seems to be mispronouncing all the words the same way! You might say “it’s as if the person is speaking in a bubble” or mumbling or grumbling or “swallowing” their words. This could be because the mother tongue requires these speech patterns (curled in lips, bouncy lips, tight jaw, wide-spread starting position, open vocal tract, tongue in the front, etc). Often people use the same patterns they learned as children without realizing they need to change them when they speak different languages. Typically, this is because the person is unaware s/he is doing this and/or doesn’t know how to fix it.


3. The person may be going “full speed ahead” in every aspect of life (not just speech) in an effort to keep up with a pace that is too fast for optimal functioning.

Personally, I think this is the biggest culprit in the Silicon Valley. We are all under stress and breakneck speed is the only option some people think they have.

How do you know if this is the case?

People whose personal timing is “full speed ahead” don’t stop to breathe. If you listen carefully, they aren’t mispronouncing the words and they don’t make a lot of grammatical mistakes, but they don’t inhale and exhale fully. Their bodies are so used to operating on adrenaline that they don’t know another way. They can’t exert enough control over this internal timing to slow themselves down when under pressure. They also respond well to breath work. That is, if the person does some breath work, they tend to sound better right away, but they just can’t keep it up. Why? Because their internal pacing is running at a different speed and it’s artificial (not sustainable).


If people in Category 3 really want to slow down their speech, they need to help their brains learn to process again (I say “again” because as children, most of us did this). It may take them longer to say things at a desirable pace than they are giving themselves permission to do. The focus may be on “saying everything” rather than saying what the time frame will allow and having the discipline and confidence to stick with the internal agreement to do that. The priority may be on spewing out content and not on maintaining composure, grounding, internal control and strength and focusing on internal calm (yes, with breath as the tool). If the internal timing becomes Priority 1, the rest will follow … the pace will become one that others will be happy to listen to.