What is your speaking rate?

No, this article is not a discussion about how much you should charge to deliver a speech. Charge as much as you dare – or at least what the market will bear. But first make sure that your content and delivery are top-notch.

Speaking of delivery. How fast or slow do you speak? Do you speak too fast for your audience to understand you? Or so slow that your audience falls asleep or tunes you out?

Walter Cronkite remains one of the most respected communicators in broadcast history. He paid close attention to his delivery:

“Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult to understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute.

How do you rate? The correct answer is that you should match your number of words per minute (WPM) to fit your audience and the setting for your speech. The larger the room and the larger your audience, the slower you should speak. In a more intimate setting (one-on-one or small group around a table) you can speak faster but be sure to watch your audience’s body language. Watch for clues that you need to either speed up or slow down. We listen with our eyes!

Here are four tips to use as you prepare your next speech or presentation:

  1. When you are rehearsing, be sure to time yourself. Record your time. And record your rehearsals (audio /video)
  2. If you are using PowerPoint, take advantage of the Rehearse Timings feature. (Menu – Slide Show – Rehearse Timings) This will record the amount of time you spend on each slide (or each bullet point) as well as the overall length of your presentation. As a bonus, you can incorporate these timings to allow the slides to advance automatically when you do your presentation.
  3. Prepare a shorter version of your speech. Quite often, you will be asked to “speed it up” because the program is running behind schedule. DON’T! Don’t speed up your delivery – a recipe for disaster. Rather, deliver your streamlined-version. Quite often, this will be the more effective speech – you benefit from brevity!
  4. Always memorize – two parts of your speech: Your first two minutes. Your closing minute.

Pay attention as others speak. How do you react as an audience? As a listener? Does the speaker engage you? Do you follow them? Do you understand them? What is their speaking rate?

Of course, variety is the spice of life. You need to vary your rate of speaking to reflect the tone of your content. Speed up when you are excited; slow down when you are making an important point. And always remember “the power of the pause.”

Learn to master your speaking rate and you will achieve your goal – your message will be heard and understood.

Learn to master your speaking rate and you will be asked back to speak again. Your reputation will grow and more audiences will want to listen to what you have to say. And… the rate that you can charge to speak will also improve. You will be worth it. You will have earned it.

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  1. Thank you for the nice tips on speaking. I’m studying communications in university right now, so I found this article very helpful.
    Thank you much.

  2. Hi Ben –

    Thank you for writing. I am pleased that my articles have helped you in your classes.


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