What's your speech rate?

 - developing a flexible speaking rate

A man with michrophone speaking at a formal function

Is your speech rate too fast, too slow or just right?
And what is a normal speaking pace?

The answers are not straight forward.

Speech rate is the term given to the speed at which you speak. It's calculated in the number of words spoken in a minute. A normal number of words per minute (wpm) can vary hugely.

Rate Guidelines

Studies show speech rate alters depending on the speaker's culture, geographical location, subject matter, gender, emotional state, fluency, profession or audience.

However, despite these variables, there are widely accepted guidelines.

These are:

  • Slow speech is usually regarded as less than 110 wpm, or words per minute.
  • Conversational speech generally falls between 120 wpm at the slow end, to 150 - 200 wpm in the fast range.
  • People who read books for radio or podcasts are often asked to speak at 150-160 wpm.
  • Auctioneers or commentators who practice speed speech are usually in the 250 to 400 wpm range.

Why change your speech rate?

Generally people are not conscious of their habitual speaking speed and if they are understood by those listening there is little reason to change. Their speech could be considered too slow or too fast by people outside of their normal environment but if they are not routinely communicating with them it doesn't really matter.

However changes of audience and speech purpose can force a need to become more aware of speaking speed.

For example - a shift from one part of a country to another, from a slower speaking area to a faster speaking one, will, through audience response, make a habitually slower speaker aware of their speech rate.

Similarly someone with naturally fast speech who takes a job requiring presentations to colleagues or customers, will find themselves having to slow down in order to communicate effectively.

Public speaking and rate of speech

If you're giving a speech or presentation, the concept of a normal speaking speed doesn't apply. What does is flexibility - the ability of the speaker to mix and match pace appropriately with speech content and the audience's ability to comprehend it.

Experience and audience reaction will teach you that a one-size-fits-all approach will be far less effective than careful variation in rate.

Exercises to Change Speaking Rate

If you know you speak either too fast, too slowly or without speed variation then exercises to develop flexibility are what you need.

Here are two selections to choose from. Have fun with them!

  1. Quick and Easy Effective Tips for Speaking Rate Flexibility
    These exercises specifically address the undesirable responses induced in an audience by a speaker either talking too quickly or too slowly.
  2. The second is to a superb series of exercises presented by Lynda Stucky of Clearly Speaking. These are more for people whose conversational speech needs attention. She has included excellent audio clips of herself reading the same piece of text at varying speeds to illustrate how that alters the listening and understanding experience.

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