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 ( 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

  • 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

August 25 Class Updates: Blocking and Mining

Today we discussed delivery strategies. For monologues specifically we discussed using blocking and text mining (for emotional and visual/organizational structure) to ask questions about character, motivation, and logic of movement. Then we discussed how to cut a script into a “memorization script” as a result of blocking/mining consideration. We practiced our monologues in small groups and discussed the ideal rate of speech. We practiced (in some classes) speaking at the ideal of 160-180 wpm and I recommended the free app Speech Pacesetter Lite as an option for practicing rate of speech on your own.

For more on blocking:

For more on text/script mining: Acting and Living in Discovery: A Workbook for the Actor by Carol Rosenfeld. A limited preview of this book is available on Google Books including a mining exercise on p. 32

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What Do I Wear for My Speech?

You can read a full article and list of 6 tips here:

There are no real hard and fast rules for dressing and you will probably dress differently for each speech. You don’t need to “dress up” but you do need to “dress strategically.” That means:

  1. Wear things that fit, are comfortable, and that feel good. If it’s too tight, too short or ill-fitting you are going to fuss with it and not feel as confident. Fidgeting with clothes (especially pulling things down or out because they are too tight) are common speech distractions that affect delivery.
  2. Dress slightly better than the audience. You don’t need to wear a ballgown but you want to look like you give a crap and know what you’re doing.
  3. Dress for your character and theme. If you are discussing football coaching then a wrap dress doesn’t really seem necessary. If you’re discussing the life of a fashion mogul, put on some accessories.
  4. Don’t wear distracting things that will take away from or overshadow the speech. These can be t-shirts with strong or offensive slogans that will make the audience look at the shirt and not at you, things that are loud or clunky like a bunch of bracelets (I know, the irony), or hats that obscure your face.
  5. If you have longer hair, put it up. If you have long hair and you let it hang you WILL play with it. It’s inevitable. So pull it back somehow, even if you just comb it back with some hair spray so it stays out of your face.

Speech Pacesetter Lite (iTunes link)

I mentioned this in class today as a useful tool for helping you to help you target a 160-180 wpm speaking rate. You can use the monologue assignment as an opportunity to assess the speech of your current rate of speech but, to be clear, that does not mean your monologue needs to be 160-180 wpm – your monologue should be delivered roughly as you saw it performed though if it’s much over 190 wpm and you’d like to slow down I certainly think that’s a possibility.

Moving forward, however, every speech will aim for that 160-180 target.

Strategies for Memorizing Your Monologue

Read the full (and very short) article here:

  1. Begin by reading the script over and over again, looking for what actors call the “throughline” — the causal chain that leads one event in the play to topple into the next and the next. Memorizing the thoroughline, which doesn’t appear as such in the script, is as important as memorizing the words in the script themselves.
  2. Engage in “micro-level” processing of the material; pay minute attention to every snatch of dialogue because each word offers a hint of the speaker’s motivations and desires. The words are an expression of these motivations and desires. If you have a sense of those the words appear more naturally.
  3. Try to tie the words you speak to the moves your body makes — the finger pointing you might do during a moment of accusation, for example, or the welcoming posture you adopt when you’re greeting new acquaintances.
  4. Infuse your delivery with some real emotion.

Vetting Your Monologue (part 32,495)

One of the reasons I don’t vet monologues (i.e. you send me a monologue link and say, “what do you think?”) is practical: it would=be impossible with 100 students. The second reason is more general: your ability to select a monologue (or write a speech, or take a test) is part of what the assessment is assessing. If I pick it for you (or you pick it and I verify it) then it’s not really an “assessment.”

But most importantly, it’s REALLY important for your public speaking skills (and life skills) that you be able to not only identify central idea statements and themes on your own but also evaluate their clarity, sophistication, development and audience applicability.If I do the vetting for you then, again, I undermine your development in this very important area.

But I do respect your anxiety and desire to do well and I appreciate it. So certainly reach out. But before doing so, given what I’ve said above, I suggest you read the recent blog posts, review your notes from class when we discussed central ideas and themes, ask someone else to maybe talk through your central idea/theme with you and, with that kind of underway, if you still have questions you can send me what you think the theme is and the central idea statement (or closest approximation) and i might be of more help.

Good luck!

Vet Your Monologue with Research

For those of you worried if your monologue is “acceptable” or “good” —

There’s really no such thing as an acceptable/unacceptable or good/not good monologue except when it comes to things that obviously don’t meet the basic requirements (it’s four minutes long, it’s from an Obama speech, etc.). Otherwise there’s just more clear and interesting and less clear and interesting themes. Part of what the assignment is teaching and assessing is whether you can parse that out.

One way to help you make that judgment (besides applying what we’ve discussed in class to the monologues under consideration) is researching who else has discussed/reviewed/critiqued your monologue somewhere on the interwebs–usually if people are talking about the meaning of something (or even better debating the meaning of something) you’re onto something with strong potential. Even if you find a lot of writings about how a particular monologue is the worst (i.e. the mean girls prom scene) then at least you can safely rule it out.

It’s probably above and beyond the research I expect most students to do for this assignment but, nonetheless, it’s available to you if you’d like to do more vetting of your monologue prior to delivery.