I was at a professional development seminar today, and the presenter, while being interesting and knowing his subject admitted to being nervous and was speaking very fast. I know I do this when I am giving presentations, despite knowing my audience and my subject.

Why is it that a lot of people will speak faster when nervous?

  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking for answer on biological or cognitive level? $\endgroup$ – ICanFeelIt Jul 26 '13 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ @user1406647 I am interested in the cognitive level. $\endgroup$ – user3554 Jul 26 '13 at 9:42

I am experienced presenter, my job is to show presentation, organize educations and trainings to different people, with different personality traits in different situation. Until now I collected more the 700 hours of presentation and more then 120 hours of presentation education. In the beginning I had also that problem, but I overcome it by exercise. Now I am completely relaxed when present.

In my opinion cause of this is social anxiety in self presentation: Here is one research, but I am sure you can find several more if you look to literature section.

Social anxiety, self-presentation, and the self-serving bias in causal attribution [1980].

Also people get aroused because if they think that other judge them, especially if they do not present a lot... here is model how people conclude others judge them

Mood and judgement: The affect infusion model (AIM) [1995]

EDIT: In this case 'fast talking' is indicator of public speaking fear, so you cant using 'public speaking fear' as cause of 'fast talking' because it will be circular definition. Here is a try to explain this in S-O-R paradigm:

State anxiety patterns for public speaking and the behavior inhibition system [2009]

I don't know exactly what is happening in brain but I assume that something is happening in giri of the hippocampus (working memory) which is overloaded with information of judging environment and accommodate presentation, but also have significant role in speech production.

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    $\begingroup$ This explains well that people get nervous when presenting. But why does this nervousness cause presenters to talk faster? $\endgroup$ – Dvir Adler Jul 30 '13 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ i tried to improve answer $\endgroup$ – ICanFeelIt Jul 30 '13 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting answer, and I agree that evaluation apprehension plays a role, but it still doesn't answer the basic question: why would evaluation apprehension cause fast talking? Why wouldn't it, for example, cause people to slow down way too much to make sure they get everything right? $\endgroup$ – Krysta Jul 30 '13 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Krysta Maybe it is two-process model. Task oriented presenters will finish their presentation fast, and people oriented presenters will allocate more working memory on participant reactions. It will be very interesting to check this model experimentally. $\endgroup$ – ICanFeelIt Jul 31 '13 at 7:56

When speaker lacks confidence about the full-scope of what they present, they stuff in as much as can be spoken to ensure they've covered any 'possible loose ends'.

Lack-of-Confidence ensures the speaker will never have enough, and will jam in more.

A confident speaker understands the core of their topic. They can speak it in 1 sentence (or 5). Thus, all other speech is elaboration, not foundation.

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    $\begingroup$ I suppose an experiment to test this hypothesis would be to take unconfident people and confident people, induce arousal (inject adrenaline), then see how much more quickly they perform the task about which they are confident. $\endgroup$ – NiteCyper Nov 22 '13 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ Why would adrenaline make a difference here? Just to distract them from potential calm that could allow more-rational thinking $\endgroup$ – New Alexandria Nov 22 '13 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ People with low self-esteem yet are unaroused are not commonly known to speak faster than normal. The asker used the term "nervous" which I had interpreted to mean aroused. Double-checking, "nervous" is not synonymous with unconfident, though they can be closely related. $\endgroup$ – NiteCyper Nov 22 '13 at 23:08

It has been disproven that an aroused brain "thinks faster", but an aroused brain perceives time as passing slower. Thus, an aroused speaker would be inclined to believe that they're speaking too slowly and thus speak faster to compensate.
Even outside of oral presentation, I find this tendency to act faster to be evident when I am playing a first-person shooter video-game and my view (and to a more unfortunate extent, my aim) whips about when I'm having an adrenaline rush, and how a scared animal will act similarly.

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    $\begingroup$ This line of thought seems quite reasonable and in my opinion does more towards answering the question than the currently accepted answer. It could further be improved by linking directly to the specific publications you are referring to, potentially seeing whether their findings can be placed more in context or not. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Apr 28 '16 at 17:03

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