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Communication tricks: Speed up/slow down

If you exercise, you probably know something about interval training. You get a better workout, fitness experts say, if you vary your pace.

For example, run, then walk, then sprint. Then keel over.

But when I do intervals, usually on the treadmill in our basement, it's for a different reason: to break monotony.

Moving at a constant pace, minute after minute, after minute, gets boring. But if you change it up every few minutes, suddenly, it's more attention-grabbing.

Let's apply this speed up/slow down principle to your communications.

1) Speaking: Do you naturally speak fast or slow?

You're probably fast if, in your opinion, others speak so slowly that you need to frequently interrupt them and complete their sentences. You're probably slow if you're the one being interrupted.

If you're naturally fast, pausing is your best friend.

But pausing is a powerful tool for anyone. Pause for a second or two at the beginning of a presentation, before saying a word. That'll get attention. And pause, occasionally, before a key word, or a key point.

If your rhythm is slower, speed up. One good place: when telling your audience about the agenda.

Let's suppose your agenda is about nutrition.

"First," you say, "we'll discuss breakfast." (Now speed up.) "Is it really the most important meal of the day? Who says? And which is better: eggs, a granola bar, or Greek yogurt? Or, should you just put them all in a smoothie, throw in a little kale, and be done with it? (Pause) Then, we'll briefly discuss 'snacks' . . ."

You can go fast while outlining your agenda—most people in your audience won't remember it anyway—since the real point of an agenda is to preview the themes, and assure everyone, you've got a plan.

2) Writing: Long sentences are good, but they slow things down, even if you use a dash or two—who doesn't love dashes? I certainly do—because, let's face it, a long sentence feels more like a marathon than a dash.

Use short sentences too.

It's the rhythm, back and forth, back and forth, that works.

Tip: Whether you're on a treadmill, delivering a presentation, writing a report, or doing everything all at once, vary your pace.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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