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How speakers push tolerance levels

Bad Speaker

When it comes to drinking, we all have a tolerance level for what we can handle. Unfortunately, we only learn this lesson by crossing the line and vomiting, if not worse.

The same is true for how much a person talks within a given time frame. If someone has used up 3 minutes while skipping through varieties of ideas and details, enjoying their moment in the spotlight like someone at happy hour enjoys the next round, it may be disastrous to listeners if the speaker doesn’t let us come up for air.

What’s the rule on making decisions about speech content quantity?

I’m not sure what other speakers would say, but based on my experiences speaking and my listeners experiences hearing and absorbing, I wish to offer just a few key tips. Similarly to crossing the line with drinking, making good decisions on speech (or conversation!) content is all about the too’s.


  • too much
  • too soon
  • too fast

In brief, just like drinking, if we try to force too much information on our listeners, they can’t handle it. They haven’t had the chance to think through what we’ve thought through when putting our thoughts together, so we need to honor their need for time to swallow what we’re giving them.

Limit the volume. It’s not about quantity.

In 10 minutes, we listeners can effectively handle 3 points. Honor this. If speakers use less time, they need to cut back the number of ideas. Also, keep this theory in mind – 3 points help speakers round out an idea. 2 points help speakers compare ideas. 1 point helps give power to any idea.

Have you ever started drinking before you’ve given your system a good foundation? Not a good idea, right?

Just like starting too soon with imbibing, starting the first idea of your speech too soon forces listeners to engage with you before they even know your point or where you’re going with it.  This can only spell disaster – signified by the furrowed brows, shifting around or hands raised to ask questions or slow us down.

Give a foundation with story or a thematic focus using a metaphor or opening question to alert listeners on what to expect. This helps listeners understand the speaker’s backstory or what gives us the ideas we’re ready to share. A good foundation gives listeners a structure or means of absorbing the ideas speakers pour out to them.

Even speakers who plan their content thoughtfully can be the victim to an earlier speaker using up some of their time. If the next speaker fails to modify the content and instead opt to speak fast so listeners get everything they planned, they start hovering into the “red light” zone of thinking they are more important than their listeners.

Fast speaking is a weakness of many speakers who either are nervous and don’t pay attention to their pace or are selfish and don’t pay attention to their listeners. Speaking too fast is an emotional behavior pattern.

Take your time. It’s not about speed. It’s about making the decision to give listeners the means to understand.

Just like drinking, speaking in such a way that we come across too fast, start too soon or say too much creates negligible tolerance. We vomit all over. Like so many of us, no doubt you’ve experienced this before. Don’t vomit. KISS. Keep It Simple, Speaker. Your listeners will love it!

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Merri Bame Merri Bame is a self-proclaimed introvert and practicing extrovert. Through her site, Breaking Down Barriers, she helps lawyers and other introvert speakers discover their communication strengths and break down barriers to use them for business development, leadership and influence.