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How many words per minute in a speech?

A quick guide for slow, average and fast rates of speech

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 12-30-2022

If you're preparing a speech with a strict time limit it’s useful to have an estimate of the number of words you’ll need to fit the number of minutes you've been given.

And it's even more useful to have those guidelines before you rush into writing, only to discover when you’re done, you’ve written far too much. Something I used to do on a regular basis! (And then, I had the tedious job of pruning to fit.)

About this quick reference guide

The following table (below) shows the average number of words in a 1 to 30 minute speech. It's a quick reference guide: one only intended to provide general guidelines.

Who, and what, is truly average?

An average total word count for any timed speech (one minute, two minutes, three, four, five, six...or more, minutes) is impossible to give. As there really is no such thing as an average person, with an average reading speed, an average rate of speech, an average rate of conversational talk, or speaking speed.

We are individuals: each of us different. Speech patterns and speech rates vary considerably between person to person for a great many reasons. The best you’ll ever get is an educated guess.

Use as an estimate: test yourself to be sure

That aside, the following estimates will give you a handy indication of the number of minutes it takes to say x number of words depending on whether you talk at a slow speed, a medium speed or you're one of the world's fast talkers.

(And, no, it's never a good idea to gabble at a mile a minute to fit everything you've prepared into the length of time you've been given!)

To be absolutely sure that what you've done will fit the time allocation you've been given it's a good idea to test yourself to establish your own speaking rate or speed of speech.

How many pages is a 'x' minute speech?

Multiple variations on the 'how many pages do you need?' question are commonly asked. For instance:

  • How many pages is a 4-minute speech?
  • How many pages is a 7-minute speech?
  • How many pages is a 20-minute presentation?

Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. Calculating the number of A4 pages of text you need for a speech of any number of minutes long is tricky for two reasons.

How many words are on an A4 page?

The first reason is that the number of words on an A4 page depends on how the page has been formatted. The answers to the questions below make a very big difference to the total number of pages needed to print a speech.

  • What is the font family being used? (Different fonts take up differing amounts of space because of the shape/design of their characters.)
     
  • What is the size of the font? (The font size you're reading right now is 20px.)

  • What is the spacing between each of the letters in a word?

  • What is the spacing between each line of text? Is it single spacing, 1.5 or double line spacing?

  • What spacing has been set for paragraphs?

  • What size have the margins of the page been set at?

  • Are there headings? Sub-headings or lists?

On average if the font is plain, (sans-serif, without embellishment), like Arial or Verdana, its size is set for 12px, and the line spacing is set for 1.5, then a page may have between 400-500 words on it.

Speech rate changes how we calculate the number of words we need

The second reason why using the number of pages to gauge how long a speech will take to deliver is problematical is because we speak at different rates. 

One 500-word page may take someone speaking at very slow rate 4 minutes to get through.

Another person who has a much faster speaking rate, may take about 2.5 minutes to deliver exactly the same text.

Using the number of pages needed as a guide for a speech that has to fit a time limit is completely unreliable.

If you need to use a 'guesstimate' use the speech rate table below. Forget about the number of pages! 

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How many words are there in a 1-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker, less than 120 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 120 - 160 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 160 - 200 words.

How many words are there in a 2-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 240 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 240 - 320 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 320 - 400 words.

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How many words are there in a 3-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 360 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 360 – 480 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 480 - 600 words.

How many words are there in a 4-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 480 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 480 – 640 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 640 - 800 words.

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How many words are there in a 5-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 600 words,

If you speak at an average speed between: 600 – 760 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 760 - 1000 words.

How many words are there in a 6-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 720 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 720 – 960 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 960 - 1200 words.

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How many words are there in a 7-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 840 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 840 – 1120 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 1120 - 1400 words.

How many words are there in an 8-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 960 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 960 – 1280 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 1280 - 1600 words.

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How many words are there in a 9-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker less than 1080 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 1080 – 1440 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 1440 - 1800 words.

How many words are there in a 10-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker a little less than 1200 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 1200 – 1600 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 1600 - 2000 words.

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How many words are there in a 15-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker, a little less than 1,800 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 1,800 - 2,400 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 2,400 - 3,000 words.

How many words are there in a 20-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker, a little less than 2,400 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 2,400 - 3,200 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 3,200 - 4,000 words.

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How many words are there in a 25-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker, a little less than 3,000 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 3,000 - 4,000 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 4,000 - 5,000 words.

How many words are there in a 30-minute speech?

If you are a slow speaker, a little less than 3,600 words.

If you speak at an average speed between: 3,600 - 4,800 words.

If you are a fast speaker between: 4,800 - 6,000 words.

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Find out more about speech rate

Words per minute calculator

Lastly here's the link to a useful online words per minutes calculator. Once you've completed your speech enter the total number of words, and select whether you want it to give you an average for a minute of your speech at a slow rate, average or fast rate. Again, it's a 'guesstimate'. ☺

The only really safe way to find out whether your speech fits your time allocation is to say it aloud at an ideal rate or pace: one taking into account the content, and the audience who is going to listen to it, while timing it.

(Use the record function on your phone. It will assist in lots of other ways too! You'll hear where you need more vocal variety, where your pronunciation is blurred ...and, so on. It's super helpful.)

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