We live in a fast-paced world. And it is getting faster all the time.  In 2001 a guy called Ray Kurzweil, an inventor, said that in the next hundred years we wouldn’t see 100 years-worth of progress but more like 20,000 years worth.

He’s a pretty smart guy.  He predicted that a computer would beat the world chess champion by 1998 (it happened in 1997).  In 1990 he predicted that PCs would be capable of answering queries by accessing information wirelessly via the Internet by 2010. And that by the early 2000s, exoskeletal limbs would let the disabled walk.

Information growth is rapidly accelerating. We are processing more information, and we are doing it faster than ever.

And here’s an interesting fact.  Statistics show that the best speakers are also talking faster.

What is a Normal Speaking Rate?

Most people in the last century would speak at a rate of 130-140 words per minute.  Now that is more like 150 wpm. That’s the typical speed for conversational English.

However, Dom Barnard of VirtualSpeech says that the most popular TED Talk speakers have a quicker rate. They analysed some of the most popular speakers and found their rates average closer to 175, with Tony Robbins, one of the fastest, speaking over 200 wpm.

So, in order to keep up with today’s top speakers, do you need to speak faster?

How Fast Do You Talk?

 How can you work out how fast you speak?  Well, there are 2 ways you can do it.

  1. If you have a video of yourself speaking, then you can upload this to a service called Rev.com and get it transcribed. At the same time and for the same cost you can get it captioned/subtitled – which is a good idea.  Most people don’t watch videos with the sound on.  You can also use Microsoft 365 or YouTube for this.

This will give you a transcript which you can transfer into a word-processing program like Word to get the word count. Then, just divide the number of words by the number of minutes to get your wpm.

  1. You can do this in reverse. If you have a talk, raining, webinar etc coming up you can use the transcribe function on Microsoft Word.  Record yourself at the same time or use a stopwatch.  And try and talk at the same pace as you would do if this was ‘live’.   The transcript will give you your word count, which you can then divide by the time to get wpm.

How To Leverage Your Pace

Depending on whether you are a new or experienced speaker, your pace will vary.  New speakers tend to speak more quickly in a race to get everything in and get it over with!  And the first part of a presentation is quickest of all in these circumstances.

But what you really want to do is vary the pace.

When you have worked out your normal pace, then you can decide if you need to get faster to drive interest or slow down to emphasise seriousness or make more impact.  These changes of pace capture an audience’s attention.

One benefit of speaking quickly is that the listener has to pay more attention.  When the pace of speaking is slow – it gives the mind time to drift off and think of other things.  Think Deepak Chopra!!

When the pace is fast – you have to listen more to make sure you don’t miss anything.  There is a current trend for listening to books, lectures etc at a 1.5 or 2x pace, with some university students listening at up to 4x.  This has only become possible with digital technology.  Previously if you listened to a tape recording (if you’re asking what that is you must be under 30), on a faster speed the person talking sounded like a chipmunk!

But this pace doesn’t apply to speaking in real-time – there comes a point where your speech becomes unclear and garbled if you are speaking ‘too fast’.  And at this point, it is uncomfortable for the listener.

So, the wpm count is an interesting exercise.  Let me know how you get on with it. What’s MY pace of speaking I hear you ask?  Well – you show me yours and I’ll show you mine 😊 Maybe!!

So – yes – people DO generally listen more if you talk fast.  Remember though, pace is just one factor enabling a compelling speech.  For more ways to master the art of presenting – email me at cheryl@cheryl-chapman.com

Share This

Share this post with your peers.