How Fast is Too Fast When Delivering a Speech?

I am often asked how many words should be included when drafting a speech. This can depend on a number of factors, not least the language being spoken and the culture in which it is spoken; speech rates can vary from region to region, person to person and even each time you speak. We often speak faster when we’re nervous and slower when we’re feeling tired which can impact on your speech rate.

When you’re drafting a speech it can be tempting to try to put too much into it, which means you end up rushing through allowing no time for expression or pause, particularly if you are on a strict time limit. Rather than your listener hearing all of your key points, this has the opposite effect and often means that none of your message is heard.

It is important to allow time for intentional pauses which enable you to reinforce your point and provide time for your audience to process the information, as well as unintentional pauses such as unexpected audience response, laughter or other interruptions.

The phrase ‘less is more’ is particularly crucial when you have a strict time limit on your speech such as a 30 second networking pitch or you are entering a competition like the upcoming Scottish EDGE Fund competition for which applicants need to deliver a 3 minute pitch.

The most common way to measure speech rate is words per minute. Andrew Dlugan has a great article on his Six Minutes blog which analyses 9 TED talks and calculates the average words per minute rate (163).

Whilst every speaker has their own style and pace, I personally recommend planning for slightly less than these TED speakers and generally advise my clients to aim for a maximum of 125-150 words per minute when drafting your pitch or presentation. This allows for a clear and expressive delivery, with opportunities to reinforce your points through emphasis, pause and variety in the volume, pitch, rhythm and pace. After all, you want to ensure your message is heard and no one has ever complained about a speech being too short!

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Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

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