As the nation prepares for Lady Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday and the airwaves are saturated with clips of the former Prime Minister’s speeches and interviews, a piece on Radio 4’s Today programme the other day particularly caught my attention. In 1987, with the Cold War raging, Mrs Thatcher appeared on Soviet television, where a barrage of three interviewers was supposed to make mincemeat of her. As it turned out, the boot was on the other foot.
What struck me when I heard a snippet was how slowly she spoke. Listen for yourself here – the whole clip lasts only 5 minutes 6 seconds.
I’m always telling my clients to speak more slowly, for several reasons:
- It’s easier for the audience to follow
- It gives you, the speaker, more time to think
- It gives you, the speaker, more authority.
Of course, the Iron Lady was well informed and she will have prepared thoroughly for this discussion. Nevertheless, a lot of us, faced with not just one but three hostile interviewers, would find our minds going blank. Mrs Thatcher, by contrast, had the Russian journalists in awe of her, and the one featured in the Today clip actually mentions the ‘very proper words she always found to answer’.
Speaking slowly helps you to stay calm and in control. It allows you to marshal your arguments and find the right words to express them. And it gives the subliminal message that you are important.
If you don’t like the reference to Lady Thatcher, perhaps you’ll take the word of the great actor (and acting teacher) Michael Caine, who said this:
“The basic rule of human nature is that powerful people speak slowly and subservient people quickly – because if they don’t speak fast nobody will listen to them.”