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Are Fast Talkers More Persuasive?

Are we more influenced by someone’s knowledge or their gift of gab?

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
August 4, 2011
Episode #126

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Reader, Rachel Lu, was recently told that she spoke too quickly during an interview. She wrote me to ask if speakingtooquickly or  s p e a k I n g  t o o   s l  o  w  l  y  matters? What do you think?

So what do you think? Does your rate of speech have an impact? Do you think we are less persuaded when information comes at us too fast? Or are we more persuaded by the apparent knowledge and confidence of fast speakers? Unfortunately, the quick and dirty answer is: it depends!

Why is Rate of Speech Important?

Researchers have been trying to untangle the relationship between rate of speech and perceptions for some time now. Whether you are a preacher, a sales professional, teacher, lawyer, politician, retail worker, or someone interested in changing jobs (or getting a raise), you will need to convince others to see things your way from time to time. That’s when your rate of speech matters.

Fast Speakers Are More Credible

So what does the research say? In the late 1970’s a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that if people talked at a somewhat fast rate (195 words per minute), they were perceived as more credible, intelligent, socially attractive, and persuasive. The converse was also found to be true. Slow talkers (about 100 words per minute or less) were thought to be unintelligent lacking credibility. Perhaps this research is what led to fast-talking salesmen?

By the way, to put those numbers in perspective, an average American speaker engaged in friendly conversation speaks at a rate of approximately 110-150 wpm. Book publishers generally recommend audio books to be voiced at 150-160 wpm, auctioneers are generally 250-400 wpm, while the average reading rate is about 200-300 wpm.

But Are Fast Speakers More Persuasive?

In the 1980’s and 1990’s researchers started to realize that although speaking faster did boost credibility, it didn’t always have a positive impact on persuasion.

A 1991 study by Smith & Shaffer modified the earlier finding by suggesting that although speech rate has an effect on the speaker’s credibility, the actual level of persuasion depends on the message being delivered. If the audience was likely to agree with the message, then slowing down seemed to help or increase persuasiveness (think slow talking Southern preachers). The idea is that providing more time between words gives the audience a chance to agree. However, if the audience is hostile to a message, then slowing down also provides time for them to come up with counter-arguments and is therefore less persuasive.

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