We all find ourselves in over our head from time to time. It may happen in a meeting with superiors or in an argument with a more knowledgeable opponent, but when it does happen, our shortcomings can become exposed, and as our confidence breaks down, we fall into a downward spiral. Avoid this outcome by speaking more slowly than everyone else in the room. You’ll be surprised at how often that turns the tables.
Speaking quickly is an obvious sign of nervousness, and when people feel challenged, they generally speed up even further. It is as though we believe that if we can land more points before the other person has a chance to speak, we will win back ground. Of course, the faster we speak, the less time we give our points to land, and the more we betray our own lack of confidence, which is even more damaging in the end.
Some people are blessed with the rare natural gift of slow rate of speech. These people may not seem exciting at cocktail parties, but if you watch them in meetings, you will notice that they are interrupted less often, are more likely to be yielded to when they interrupt others, and they seem more organized and thoughtful, which instills greater confidence.
The key is to train yourself to feel when you are nervous or under attack, and when that trigger fires, slow down your rate of speech dramatically. Use the others in the meeting as benchmarks, and slow down so that you are, quite literally, the slowest speaker in the room. (Expect to cut your speed in half.) Your speed will come off as calm and confident, giving you a leg up. Plus, it is far better than the alternative–speeding up–which most of your colleagues will do when challenged.
Do not worry about being “too slow.” In all my years watching presentations, from courtrooms to boardrooms, I cannot count more than three instances of someone speaking so slowly that it became ineffective. So the next time you find yourself in a tough situation, remember: slow and steady wins the race.