Ideal Rate of Speech & Your WPM

We are targeting your ideal rate of speech at 160 – 180 wpm. This is what I think is both doable and advisable—for myself and others—but it’s not a universal rate. I drew my range from a study of 9 Ted Talks in which the researcher found the average speaking rate was 163 words per minute (http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/speaking-rate/). The range of speech rates was 133 – 188 with 2/3 of the speakers in the narrow range 153-168.

  • Al Gore 133 wpm
  • Steve Jobs 158 wpm
  • Ken Robinson 168 wpm
  • Jaqueline Novogratz 188 wpm

Most traditional rate of speech advice (which has been around for a while) would consider 163 wpm too fast. Traditionally, the following ranges are recommended (retrieved from http://alt-usage-english.org/audio_archive.shtml):

  • Slow speech: less than 110 wpm, or words per minute.
  • Conversational speech: around 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 are usually in the 250 to 400 wpm range.

Whether you decide that the 160 – 180 wpm range works for you or whether you decide to move in the Al Gore range of 133 what is VERY important is that you always aim for 180 wpm or less. That is the absolutely maximum rate of speaking that is doable for a listener.

As early in the semester as you can I recommend assessing your current rate of speech or words per minute (WPM) and your PREFERRED RATE OF LISTENING to see if they match up. If they do and they are within range, congratulations! If not (which will be true for most of us) then we have some work to do. To calculate your WPM do the following:

  • Watch a video or audio recording of yourself (preferably one that you recorded not consciously thinking about your rate of speech)
  • Start approximately 20 seconds into the speech (the first 20 seconds are usually slower than your typical rate will be)
  • From 15 seconds in, do one of the following:
    • Count every word you say for the next 30 seconds (so until the video reaches 45 seconds) and then multiply by 2 to get your WPM
    • Count every word you say for the next 60 seconds (so until the video reaches 1 minute 15 seconds or 75 seconds) and that is your WPM
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Published by

RhetoricLee

I am a rhetorical scholar, public speaker, and teacher at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I study speech and contemporary U.S. political culture and teach courses in public speaking, interpersonal and visual communication, speech and media, and rhetorical theory and criticism. I have been featured on RabbitBox Storytelling and TEDx.

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