When you are on the platform, do you ever worry about staying on time? We all do. Speakers often ask how many words they should include in a speech to remain on time. Staying within your allotted time (AT) can be determined by a simple formula. We all know how embarrassing it is to destroy a well-prepared presentation by going way over time. The simple answer to staying on time – It depends to some extent on your average conversational speaking rate. The average number of words you speak conversationally in one minute can help determine the number of words you should include in your presentation to stay on time.
The average rate for most English speakers in the US is between 110 and 150 wpm. Do you know your conversational speaking rate? I stress conversational because your speaking rate can vary depending on the situation you are in when you are speaking. It is natural for us to talk at different rates at different times. To find your conversational WPM – words per minute rate, select a passage from any author. Choose one with content that is inspirational and contains many single-syllable words. Read the passage for exactly one minute. If possible, make a recording of your reading. Then, count the number of words you read to find your average speaking rate per minute – your WPM.
Once you have your AT and your WPM, you are ready to develop your formula. The formula I use and often recommend is = Allotted Time (AT) minus one, times your WPM. (AT – 1 X WPM). Now, let us do the math. If your AT is 5 to 7 minutes, subtract one for pauses and audience interaction – (7 – 1) = 6 minutes. If your wpm – speaking rate is around 125 wpm, your number of words should be 6 x 125 = 750 words. If your speech contains humor or you expect some audience interaction decrease or increase your number of words accordingly. I have seen and heard successful humorous or even international speeches with as little as 600 words and others with many as 800 words. It all depends on your content speaking rate.
Once you know the number of words you have at your disposal to deliver your message, the challenge is to make every word count. Firstly, you will need a copy you can edit. I am a strong advocate for writing out speeches as your ideas and content will be delivered. I once heard it said that great speeches are not written; they are rewritten. Commit a dump of all your great ideas to paper, and you will have a document to edit. Visualize how every word will impact your message. With a final draft, you can prepare your speech for delivery. The next stage is to internalize your message – developing each idea for delivery in the order as was written. Do not try to memorize your speech. Memorizing is a receipt for disaster. Deliver your address using the results of your formula and time will be one less detail you will have to worry about when you are on the platform.