Speech rate and public speaking

There is a big difference between speaking and reading…No, this isn’t as obvious a statement as it sounds, because, even though we know that speaking and reading are different activities, we can sometimes forget this when giving a presentation.

Think about it, if you’re an efficient reader, how many words can you read in a minute? While there will be huge variation, both across individuals, and depending on the type of text, an average for an adult is 250 words per minute. How would it sound if you gave a presentation at that speed? Probably very rushed, and hard for the listener to follow. Because when listening to someone speak, the optimal rate for the speaker is around 150-160 words per minute. This rate gives the listener time to process what you are saying.  That’s not to say that we can’t increase our rate at times. In fact effective speakers vary their speed when they talk, whilst maintaining an overall rate which is slower than typical.

How do you figure out how fast you speak? Record yourself speaking over five minutes, count how many words you’ve said (using a tally counter or a tally counter app) and divide by 5.

If you’re interested in learning more about speech rate, I came across a great article by Andrew Dlugan which analysed the speaking rate of 9 Ted Talks presenters, including Steve Jobs and  Al Gore. Read it here.

While speaking rate is but one factor involved in being an effective speaker, it highlights how the importance of how we deliver our message, in order to be effective. This is crucial from giving a presentation to a group of professionals, to trying to get your child to do what you’ve asked as you try and get out the door to school (personally I find the latter more of a struggle!).

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