public speaking rate

The Importance of Rate in Public Speaking

Rate is how fast or slow a person speaks. Basically, it is the number of words you speak per minute (wpm).

A normal number of wpm can vary hugely. In fact, studies report that speech rate depends on the speaker’s culture, location, gender, emotional state, audience etc.

In detail, we have found that:

  • Slow speed speech (e.g. giving a slide presentation) is usually less than 110 wpm
  • Conversational speech is about 120 wpm
  • Reading books requires between 150 and 160 wpm
  • Fast speed speech (e.g. auctioneers) is between 250 and 400 wpm

You can vary the rate depending on the emotions you are feeling or the type of message you want to communicate. For example, if you are happy you will speak at a faster rate than if you are sad.

if you speak too fast your audience will not be able to keep up with you. Speak too slowly and your listeners will lose interest. You want to speak fast enough so that people have to pay attention, but slow enough that they can digest what you are saying.

You should continually adjust your speed according to your speech content and audience. Sometimes, it could be useful to slow and perhaps even stop for the audience to catch its breath. At the same time, there would also be places where a quick acceleration could excite the audience.

It is worth noticing that speaking too quickly could be seen as a sign of anxiety or fear. Moreover, speaking too slowly could be interpreted as a lack of intelligence, a lack of knowledge about the speech subject or a lack of preparation.

As adults, changing our normal speaking rate is challenging. Whereas, as children we are like sponges: we soak up everything around us. Nevertheless, altering rate is not impossible but it does require awareness, sacrifice, effort and practice.

The more you practice the better you will become!

Keep in mind: the most effective speaking rate is approximately 125-160 words a minute. You should vary the rate, moving quickly through some of the material but slowing to emphasize important information or to communicate a complex idea.

Francesco Pecoraro

Francesco has extensive experience as a project, program and portfolio manager, project management officer (PMO), digital transformation and strategic consultant. He is also considered a communication, public speaking and leadership expert.

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