FAST, NOT FURIOUS
By the time I got through security at the airport earlier this week, my flight was already boarding. I walked quickly down the corridor, as fast as I could without actually breaking into a trot. Meanwhile, a tall man to my right ambled along leisurely. I couldn’t help but notice as I hurried along that despite my quick (for me!) pace, I could hardly keep up with him!
When I coach clients on interview or presentation skills, “pace” often comes up. In practicing for an upcoming interview, I’ll ask the client a typical interview question. This usually triggers a torrent of words, all tumbling on top of each other like water over Niagara Falls. Clients practicing for presentations often do the same thing.
The trouble isn’t with the rate of speech, but the frantic, frenzied underlying tone. If you’ve ever heard an auctioneer, you know that it’s possible to fit an enormous number of words into a short space of time without the sense of stress. Sometimes you need to speak quickly. In fact, when you’re in front of a group, speaking too slowly throughout the presentation will cause energy levels to drop and your audience will lose interest.
In addition to speech, the same is true for your movements. Walking is one example, as I mentioned. But other movements, such as gestures, or even how you nod your head, can convey impatience or anxiety when done hurriedly, or confidence and power when they are fluid and free. Consider an Olympic sprinter or martial artist—they move so swiftly your eyes can hardly register the motions, yet there’s nothing clunky or harried about those beautiful, graceful motions.
It’s not that you need to slow down, necessarily, it’s that to convey confidence, power, and skill, your words and movements need more poise. So, how do you do that? Here are four things that will help:
Claim the Time
If you’re going to take someone’s time or attention, own it. If you need to be quick because there is limited time, fine. That is very different, though, from trying to shove your words into a short space because you don’t think you are worth paying attention to. Claim the time and space you need. This simple mental shift will add weight to your words and actions even when you need to be brief.
Auctioneers and sprinters don’t hold their breath. They breathe quickly, but deeply. This is “performance” breathing. Breathing quickly and shallowly is stressed, survival-mode breathing. That affects your tone of voice and ability to move fluidly. If you need to move, speak, or breathe quickly, do so, yet be sure to get a full breath of air so you can think clearly, speak credibly, and move purposefully.
Lengthen Your “Stride”
The man at the airport walked more leisurely than I did simply because he had longer legs. While I can’t make myself taller (well, unless you count wearing 4-inch heels), I can make the most of my stride. One of the main ways runners do this is by maximizing their range of motion—lifting their knees high in front and feet up in the back.
What does this mean for communication? Routinely stretch yourself to expand your reach. Flexibility makes runners both fast and graceful. Make stretching beyond your comfort zone a habit, and when intense situations arise, you’ll have the “range of motion” you need to be successful.
Remember the Goal
What is the point of talking? To communicate with another human being. (Or maybe Alexa?) Remember the other. It’s not all about you. This applies to your verbal (words) and nonverbal (tone and body movement) communication. If you’re tripping over your words and can’t complete a sentence, communication isn’t happening. If you’re fidgeting so much it distracts your listener from your words, communication isn’t happening.
Focus on the listener. If your aim is to give and to share, whether in an interview or presentation or one-on-one conversation, that takes the pressure off you and magically increases the impact of your words—it takes less time to say more.
If you want to convey confidence, power, and skill, be quick and graceful. You don’t necessarily have to alter your speed… but you may need to change your pace.