Are Fast Talkers More Persuasive?

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

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #126

Don’t Talk Too Fast or Too Slow!

In May 2011 University of Michigan researchers again looked at speech rate (among other speech characteristics) and persuasion. In this specific case, researches wanted to find out if speech rate influences people’s decisions to participate in telephone surveys. What did they find?

“Interviewers who spoke moderately fast [210 words per minut were much more successful at getting people to agree than interviewers who talked very fast or very slowly,” said Jose Benki, a research investigator at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

Include Natural Pauses

Interestingly, the study also looked at pauses. We naturally pause about 4 or 5 times per minute in ordinary speech. During the experiment, when the interviewers made no pauses at all, they had the lowest success rate of all, even lower than people who pause too much (or, ah, were, um, seen as, like, disfluent).

Consider Your Audience and Your Message

So what does all this research mean for you on a practical level?

In general, it seems that moderately fast speech, with natural pauses, is the most persuasive. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t true for every situation. What is most important is that you consider your particular audience and your specific message. If you’re “preaching to the choir,” then slowing down (but not much) will be a more persuasive method. If your message may not be easily accepted, then speeding up may help.

Emotions Influence Your Rate of Speaking

From a practical perspective, it’s also important to remember that our emotions influence our rate of speaking. We speak more rapidly when we have something urgent to say, when we’re nervous, when we feel like we are running out of time or when we’re trying not to be interrupted. We tend to speak slower and with more pauses when we are tired or bored. Remember to make adjustments as necessary.

Your Culture Influences Your Rate of Speaking

Finally, there is a cultural and personal aspect to rate of speech. Some people are naturally fast talkers, while others habitually speak slowly.

In some places, like New York City, people tend to naturally talk faster, while in other locales, like in the southern US, people tend to talk slower. Or if you are speaking in a language that isn’t native to you, that will generally slow down your rate of speech.

How Fast Do You Speak?

By now, you’re probably thinking, “I wonder how fast I speak?”

To determine your natural rate of speech, it’s best to record yourself talking for exactly one minute in a few different situations: on the telephone, at the dinner table, in a meeting at work, and delivering a presentation. Then count the number of words you spoke in each minute and average the four. That will give you a rough idea of how fast you speak and help you to see your variability. By first knowing how fast you speak, you can then make adjustments as needed to sway your listeners in any situation.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.


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About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.