Many a time students have said to me, “I’ve got to give a presentation before an audience and I’m so nervous. What can I do?”
My advice is always just two words:
So why speak slowly, they ask.
Several reasons, I say. When one speaks slowly, the pitch of her voice deepens, lending a certain gravitas to her demeanor.
Speaking slowly helps prevent the utterance of long, complicated sentences. The speaker runs out of breath in mid-sentence. Build brevity into the speech or presentation. I advise short sentences, strong verbs.
I give these students a Post-It note on which I’ve written those two words. I encourage them to stick it on the lectern where it’s easily visible.
Speaking slowly is a frame of mind. It helps control the stage fright. It encourages a deliberate delivery of a speech that an audience can hear word for word and grasp the meaning of each sentence as it slowly, gloriously passes by.
Speaking slowly combats nervousness. When she finds herself speaking faster and faster to the point where the sentences are ending with a rising squeak, she should stop. Tell the audience: “Excuse me for a moment.” Look at the Post-It: Speak slowly. Take a deep breath. Then: “Now, as I was saying,” in a deeper, richer, more confident voice.
When in doubt, speak slowly.
Dr. Denny Wilkins worked as a reporter and editor at a rural New England newspaper for two decades. He has taught journalism at St. Bonaventure University for nearly a quarter of a century.