Your speaking rate

Know your speaking rate.

Frequently, we have to give a speech within strict time limits. Speech contests are a good example. If a speaker goes over time by even one second, she is disqualified. Other examples include being given a 30-minute slot at a conference or 15 minutes to do an after-dinner speech.

Speedometer: Your speaking rate

Those who speak longer than they should do themselves no favours. Not only do they often bore their audiences, they can get an unwanted reputation for droning on. Once such a reputation gets around, it is hard to shake and could cost them speaking opportunities in the future. Far better to keep within time and leave them wanting more. So, how to do that?

One useful trick is to know your speaking rate; i.e., the number of words that you can say comfortably in one minute. Determining your speaking rate is easy. Pick a book that is written in the language in which the speech will be given. (Many people are multi-lingual. Your speaking rate in one language will not necessarily be the same as that in another language.)

Choose a book with straightforward text such as a novel. Do not use challenging material such as a technical manual or Shakespeare (unless you are a thespian of the highest calibre). Now, start a timer and begin to read out loud. After one minute, stop and count the words that you have read. That number is, roughly, your reading rate.

Suppose you want to compete in a Toastmasters contest where you have 7 minutes and 30 seconds maximum. My first suggestion is that you work on the basis of 7 minutes, thus giving yourself a 30-second buffer.

Let’s say your speaking rate is 135 words per minute. 7 x 135 = 945. Thus, when you are drafting your speech on paper, run a word count and make sure that you are more or less at 945 words. If you are at 1,200, chances are that you will either have to race through the speech to fit it all in, or you will go overtime. Neither option is desirable.

Of course, there are other considerations. Are you delivering a humorous speech? If so, have you factored in time for laughter? Have you considered the pauses that you will make, either for dramatic effect or to allow your audience to absorb the material?  Do you need extra time to display props?  All of these factors—and others—must be taken into account.

However, by knowing your speaking rate, you will have a good basis from which to work. It’s as easy as 1 – 2 – 3.

Now for some super-fast speaking:

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  1. John,
    Good post. That is great information, especially for novice speakers.
    The auctioneers made me think of the guy from the micro machines commercials of way back – so fast, my brain can’t keep up with them.
    “bbbbdee bdee bdeep, that’s all folks” ~ Porky Pig
    All the best,

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International