Personal Development
Average Speaking Rate and Words per Minute

Average Speaking Rate and Words per Minute

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Understanding Your Speaking Rate

Your speaking rate has a major effect on how an audience perceives your speech. Thus, it is essential to comprehend your speaking rate and how to adjust it based on what type of speech you are delivering.

Calculating Your Speaking Rate

Speaking rate is usually accounted in words per minute (wpm). To figure out this value, record yourself talking for several minutes, then count the words in your speech. Divide the total number of words by the number of minutes the speech took.

The Average Speaking Rate

The normal speaking rate changes significantly relying upon the function of the speech. According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the typical talk rate for English speakers in the United States is about 150 wpm. Nonetheless, for radio hosts or podcasters, the wpm rate is higher.

Listed below are the usual speech rates for various activities:

  • Presentations – between 100-150 wpm for a comfortable rate
  • Conversational – between 120-150 wpm
  • Audiobooks – between 150-160 wpm, which is the upper boundary that people can follow and vocalize words
  • Radio hosts and podcasters – between 150-160 wpm
  • Auctioneers – can talk at about 250 wpm
  • Commentators – between 250-400 wpm

Extreme Speaking Rates - World Record Pace

Steven Woodmore, a British electronics salesman and comedian, is well-known for his quick speaking articulation. He can articulate 637 wpm, a speed four times faster than the average person.

Woodmore was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's fastest talker, a title he held for five years, taking the helm from the previous record holder, John Moschitta, Jr.

A Comparison of Words Per Minute for Popular TED Talks

We compared various presentation styles to showcase how speaking rates can vary greatly. We'll use popular TED Talks to compare words per minute for different presentations.

We've analyzed five TED Talks, ranging from brief speeches up to 22 minutes. When we calculated the length of the speech, we incorporated when the audience was clapping and when the presenter changed slides.

We tried to select from a broad range of speech topics to obtain an objective average.

Popular TED Talk Speaking Rates

  • How great leaders inspire action (Simon Sinek) – 170 wpm
  • The power of introverts (Susan Cain) – 176 wpm
  • Do schools kill creativity? (Sir Ken Robinson) – 165 wpm
  • Why we do what we do (Tony Robbins) – 201 wpm
  • The power of vulnerability (Brené Brown) – 154 wpm

Factors That Affect Speaking Rate

Here are a few aspects that influence the overall speaking rate; most of which can be controlled by you.

  • Regular speaking rate – this is the outcome of your environment, parents, culture, friends, etc.
  • Nervousness – when nervous, people tend to talk much quicker and take short breaths as they rush through the content.
  • Saying something urgent – obviously, people speak much faster when there is an emergency, such as calling an ambulance or explaining an incident to the police.
  • Mental fatigue – exhaustion affects our thought process, making it harder for us to articulate, resulting in slower speaking.

Developing an Adaptable Speaking Rate

By understanding the factors that influence your speaking rate, you can become a better speaker. To practice, try recording yourself for a few minutes and then comprehend the number of words you said in that amount of time. Calculate your wpm and compare it with other speaking rates to understand your current rate.

Public speaking can be daunting, and it's important to have an understanding of the impact that speaking rate has on your audience. So, is speaking rate important when you are giving a presentation or speech? Read on to find out.

The Impact of Speaking Rate on Audience Perceptions

Yes, the rate of your speech does have an effect on how effectively the audience comprehends and engages with your message. Generally, speaking at a slower pace helps the audience understand and digest the content of your presentation. Long pauses and verbal stops are a great way to emphasize a point and give the audience time to process your words.

Clarity Versus Speech Pace

It's important to balance speed and clarity. While the Tony Robbins speech mentioned above was over 200 words per minute, it was still comprehensible due to the clarity of language used. It's wise to vary your speaking rate throughout the speech as keeping a consistent pace can make it monotonous for the audience.

There are also certain signs to look out for when choosing the appropriate speaking rate. Speaking quickly implies urgency, excitement, and emotion, while speaking slowly implies importance, confusion, and sadness.

Factors That Affect Speech Rate

  • Complexity of the words – longer and more complex words will take slightly longer to say.
  • Complexity of content – if you are discussing complex concepts, speak slowly so that the audience can comprehend them.
  • Verbal pauses – pauses give the audience time to absorb the content.
  • Cultural influences – the rate of speech can vary from location to location.
  • Native language – those for whom English is not their first language usually speak more slowly.

Testing and Improving Your Speaking Pace

The two best ways to measure and practice your speaking rate are:

  • Using a metronome. Set the metronome to your desired rate of speech (e.g. 130 words per minute) and practice speaking one word for each tick. Make sure to vary the rate occasionally to emphasise points.
  • Utilising practice exercises. VirtualSpeech offer practice exercises to help you present at a conference, deliver a sales pitch, and answer interview questions. This platform also provides feedback regarding your speaking rate which can help you modify your speech accordingly.

Developing an Adaptive Speaking Rate

The following five exercises are taken from 'Quick & Easy Tips for Speaking Rate' and will help you to develop an adaptive speaking rate:

  • Read a children's story silently several times and then read it aloud. Listen to how the speed alters the interpretation of the story, and then repeat the exercise with slight variations in the speaking rate.
  • Find a report from a newspaper or magazine that is packed with information and read it aloud. Make notes of which passages should be read faster or slower and repeat until you get the mix of speeds right.
  • Record yourself giving a speech at your normal speaking rate and then mark the passages where the speed should be altered. Once completed, repeat the speech and note the new time and insights.
  • Listen to speakers you admire and pay attention to their speaking rate and how it changes their message.
  • Read a report as if you were presenting to an audience who knew nothing about the subject. Note the changes you have made and the reasons behind them.

Playing with Familiar Material

Take note of the different speaking speeds used by different presenters and experiment with them yourself. Pick a text that you know well and read or recite it quickly or slowly. This will help you get a sense of the impact that changing your pace of speech has on the audience.

Improving Your Speed of Speech

Developing effective speaking skills can be made easier by refining your speed of speech. To assess your current rate, there are a few simple steps to follow.

Recording Your Speech

Before beginning any improvements, it's important to understand your current rate of speech. To get the best idea, it's helpful to record yourself speaking. This allows you to play back your recording and analyse areas that need improvement. If you're unable to record yourself, simply listen to your own speech and make a note of any areas where the speed of speech could be better.

Making Improvements

Once you have identified areas where you can improve, the next step is to make changes. Make sure you take notes on the changes you need to make and then read your speech again, implementing the changes you have identified.

Keys To Success

  • Record yourself speaking to get the most accurate understanding of your current speed of speech.
  • Make notes on where your speed of speech could be improved or refined.
  • Re-read your speech, implementing the changes where necessary.

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