Fast talkers lose their audience

September 5, 1997

FAST speaking lecturers not only run the risk of students not understanding them, but are also likely to reduce the importance of their topic in students' eyes, a study suggests, writes Julia Hinde.

Academics at Mississippi State University in the United States tested 119 undergraduates enrolled on educational psychology courses. They played them lectures on audio tape and on video, with lecturers speaking slowly (around 100wpm), at medium (150wpm) and at fast speeds (200wpm). Following the lectures, students were asked to rate the lecture topic for importance and completed a comprehension test.

Slower delivery correlated with higher student comprehension, but the researchers note: "Although the research literature has adequately addressed lecture rate's effect on comprehension, it has been silent with respect to the effects of lecture rate on students' attitudes towards the curriculum."

The new research, led by Sheri Robinson, found the perceived importance of the information presented in the lecture decreased as lecture rate increased, no matter whether students just listened to, or also watched, the lecture.

These findings contradict previous research on adverts which has investigated the impact of speaking rate and listeners' attitudes. Faster adverts were found to be more interesting.

The researchers conclude: "Lecturers, then, need to be aware of how their speaking rate may affect both cognitive and affective outcomes. The findings from the present study suggest that the answer to the question, 'How fast should I speak?' is a resounding, 'As fast as the slowest lecturers (about 100wpm)!'"

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