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Fast Talkers and Valley Girls: How a Message is Delivered Matters Just as Much as the What of It


By Claudia W. Brogan

One infamous quirk of the popular TV series “Gilmore Girls” was the quick pace of the dialogue between the two leading characters, the mother Lorelai Gilmore and her spunky daughter Rory.

The lead actress herself, Lauren Graham, even titled her autobiography “Talking as Fast as I Can.”

Being notorious for speaking quickly is one thing when used as a comic device in a TV show; it is altogether a different matter—and not a laughing matter—when used by public speakers.

Those who speak quickly when delivering presentations are often doing so for various reasons: this can be happening because of nerves, because of high excitement about one’s topic, or when rushed by a time limit trying to squeeze in “one last great point.” Whatever the reason, sustaining a quick pace when speaking can be a major distraction for listeners who get lost and have trouble ever catching up with the speaker’s key message. A speaking rhythm that feels like a race can really interfere with delivering one’s point effectively. Used sparingly, a quick pace adds emphasis and variety to a speaker’s engaging rhythm, but delivering a presentation in a steady fast tempo can easily cause the loss of connection and focus for audience members.

The key to mastering “how you speak” — and not just what you speak about — is finding and polishing your own natural speaking style.

Three techniques can make the difference in polishing “how you say it,” and can make exemplar speakers out of all of us.

First, effective elocution elevates everyone! The difference between a mumbling speaker who muddles phrases and one who slows down with distinct enunciation can mean the difference between a mundane speech and a spectacular one. Simple exercises like slowly exaggerating and enunciating syllables and sounds when warming up will help the mouth, jaw, and chin become flexible and move much more easily.

A second, essential area to add improvement is physicality when speaking: strong, confident posture not only gives poise when presenting, but also makes a noticeable difference in airflow and in the solid tone when speaking. Even by recording oneself to listen to the vocal delivery, one can detect the pitch and steadiness of speaking. Pay close attention to whether your voice is pitched higher, or settles down into a lower tone. Aim for “more James Earl Jones, less Gilbert Gottfried,” as writer Samantha Cole describes it.

Third, when listening to how your voice sounds when video- or audio-taped, listen with care, especially, for the last few words in sentences. Some speakers “toss away” the last few words, when the words go downward in pitch and volume, leaving audience members missing the last ideas. Other speakers have adopted the distracting habit of “Valley Girl” talk, where their sentences aim upward in tone, sounding like they’re asking a question at the end of sentences. This habit can convey a sense of tentativeness or uncertainty, leading audience members to question the extent of the speaker’s convictions. For powerful, convincing presentations, note that the last three or four words of the sentences are strong, sturdy, and well-delivered. Ending sentences with care will help convey clarity and persuasion.

Enunciation, upright posture, and emphasizing the key last words: learning to improve each of these can make us stand out as compelling, engaging speakers.

Next time you need help getting ready for good, nimble delivery, keep in mind the lyrics from the musical “Singing in the Rain,” that will help get the juices flowing:

Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously,
For nobody’s toeses are posies of roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be.

Speaking like a pro can be as fun as that!

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn, or by phone at 404-849-5182.