Pacing Yourself on the Podium

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to take more command over your public speaking skills. Reading time: 5:34

          Speak very s-l-o-w-l-y and people will listen more attentively to you, observes actor Kirk Douglas who suffered a stroke in his 80s that forced his slower paced speech.

Kirk Douglas starred in the movie Spartacus
Kirk Douglas starred in the 1960 movie Spartacus

          The most effective leaders know that pacing intensifies listening in much the same way classical music paces progressively to a crescendo. Martin Luther King Jr. brilliantly paced his “I Have a Dream” speech. He started at 90 words a minute (well below conversational pace of 140 words a minute). Then he concluded at a passionate 150 words per minute.

        Radio commentator Walter Winchell commanded attention with his staccato paced news delivery, gushing at twice the normal rate of speech —more than 237 words a minute—often without a breath for 20 seconds.

       The staccato voice of a passionate speaker can then be heard even faster, almost as fast as the violinist who plays 2,528 consecutive sixteenth notes for 158 measures in Ravel’s Sonata for violin.

       Whew! Meanwhile radio commentator Paul Harvey was famous for his ever-changing syncopated delivery peppered with pregnant pauses and abrupt topic changes that attracted millions of listeners for more than 50 years on ABC Radio.

     Silence Can Be Deafening

      Paul Harvey leveraged the power of the pregnant pause: “GOOD…..DAY.” The silent interval can be deafening.

      The pause heightens interest in the words to follow. With the pregnant pause, you can surprise your audience much like the long pause in composer Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 94. In the 16th measure of the second movement, there is only one sound, a single loud chord that SURPRISES the audience and gives it its namesake, The Surprise Symphony.

         Pull a Haydn. Surprise your audience. With the pacing of your voice. From staccato. To silence. To surprise.  That’s what the most effective leaders do from the podium.

           Let’s study the deliberate pacing of three famous speakers: Martin Luther King Jr., President John Kennedy and President Barack Obama. Continue reading “Pacing Yourself on the Podium”

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