Improve Podcast School – episode #11
I remember really well multiple presentations I had to give when I took my sweet time for the first 70% of the time, not even reaching half of my material, just to rush through the remainder of the material in hopes of getting to my final point.
It taught me that I could speak really fast for sure. But it also taught me that speaking either slow or fast doesn’t really matter if I don’t arrive at my point or if the way I arrive there is messy and my listeners don’t really know what is going on.
And when recording a podcast, we all wrestle with the question of how fast should we talk? I’m sure it bothers you just as much as it bothered me at some point.
According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the average rate for English speakers in the US is about 150 words per minute. The average speaking rate can change for your project. And there are many professionals who are known to speak faster or slower deliberately.
The obvious question now is what is the “right” work per minute rate. Let’s review statistics, real-life examples, and present recommendations for making the most engaging recording.
Let’s dive deep into how professionals vary their speaking rates to achieve different results and how your work can benefit from this knowledge. Applying it, you will get more listeners or viewers, sound more confidently, or generate more sales.
Let’s start with the basics.
1. How do we measure Average Speaking Rate?
Words per minute is the most common way used to determine a speaking rate.
The calculation is pretty straightforward. Just take the number of spoken words and divide it by the number of minutes it took you to deliver the speech.
One more way to calculate the speaking rate is syllables per minute. But since it is harder to figure, it is not as popular as words per minute. You get it by dividing the number of syllables spoken by the length of a speech. Also pretty straightforward.
Let’s review a short example of how those numbers differ and what they can tell us about our speech. I’ll read you two sentences now:
- Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
- Modern, sophisticated presenters using expressive vocabulary can project passion and enthusiasm, thus successfully increasing listeners’ engagement.
Both passages have exactly 17 words. But the first one has 19 syllables while the second one has 45 syllables. If you speak them both at the same words per minute rate, the longer passage will appear faster because you are, in fact, saying more.
But if you want to speak both of them at the same pace, speaking the second sentence will take more time, resulting in the lower words per minute.
The simple conclusion is that using shorter words can help you say more in the same amount of time without sounding rushed. In other words, you improve your clarity, and the things you are saying have a higher impact on your listeners.
In the previous episode, we also talked more about How To Prepare for Recording an Episode for the Highest Impact, so make sure you check it out.
2. How Fast do Professionals Talk?
Average words per minute speaking rates vary for different jobs and projects.
We have already established that the average rate for English speakers in the US is about 150 words per minute.
When you are giving a presentation, you should be between 100 to 150 wpm for a comfortable pace. A conversational speaking rate average is between 120 to 150 wpm.
So presentations and conversational style are below the average of 150.
Those are situations where we care deeply about being understood. But you can also use pauses and body language to capture your listeners’ attention.
Radio hosts, podcasters, as well as audiobooks use between 150 to 160 wpm. It is the upper range that people comfortably hear & vocalize words.
In fact, ebook publishers officially recommend 150-160 words per minute, which is close to the maximum speaking rate that also ensures full comprehension.
On the higher end, you will find auctioneers and sports commentators going between 250 words per minute and reaching 400 words per minute.
That is what I mean that you can speak at a different pace for different projects.
Most people can talk quite fast when needed. Stress and other factors also can make us speed up. But it is essential to focus and slow down to speak perfectly for our audience. But always speaking at the same rate can also be too monotonous.
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3. Do you speak too fast, too slow, or just right?
That is a complex question, and the answer definitely depends on what you are trying to achieve. Your rate of speech has an impact on how the audience perceives you and your message.
The speed of our speech affects comprehension, clarity, and customer, or listener, experience.
Comprehension is essential if you want your audio to be satisfying to your listeners and, most importantly, if you genuinely want to help them. Improving your comprehension ensures that people who came looking for your show will find the answers quickly and won’t have to search the web for better and more valuable materials.
With clarity, you increase your listeners’ focus, and you can help them learn and get a better result with your call to action. Clarity will allow you to get rid of the filler words. It keeps you focused on the topic. You will quickly cut away the redundant materials.
Listener experience will get you more good reviews, recommendations, and sales in the long run.
Professionals balance all the 3 things and achieve different results. I’ve gathered a few examples to demonstrate them to you.
Here is a short clip from Al Gore, who averages 133 words per minute.
Here is a clip from Steve Jobs, who averages 158 words per minute.
And finally, the clip from Tony Robbins, who blasts at 201 words per minute.
The fastest talker on the list, Tony Robbins, still delivers his message with clarity, and we can understand what he is saying. He achieves this by clearly articulating his words and using simple language. His clarity compensates for his speed.
But his clarity is definitely lesser than that of Gore or Jobs. He sacrifices a bit of his clarity. Why does he sacrifice his clarity and boost his words per minute? Because he wants to sound super-competent.
4. How to Use Rate of Speech Effectively?
There are two valuable studies to help you craft your voice that talk about precipitation formed based on a rate of speech.
In 1976 psychologists looked at speech rate and persuasion and concluded that faster speakers, talking on average 195 words per minute, were more persuasive than slower speakers averaging 102 words per minute. This study suggests that speech rate functions as a general cue that augments credibility.
However, in 1991 a study on rapid speech suggested a more complicated relationship. Researchers conclude that fast-talking increased persuasion when messages were in general disagreement with the audience’s views.
On the other hand, slow speech emerged as the most persuasive way of delivery when the audience inherently agreed with the message.
This is super interesting, in my opinion, and should be extremely useful for podcasters, marketers, and the whole field of professional communicators.
5. What is the ideal rate of speech?
It highly depends on the situation.
Joan Detz, professional speech coach, in her great book “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It”, writes:
“President John F. Kennedy was a notoriously fast talker – often topping 200 words per minute. You certainly don’t want to be that extreme. But, in general, talking a bit fast is better than talking too slow. Why? Speed projects charisma. Slowness projects lethargy and can frustrate listeners.”
I couldn’t agree more. But that’s not all.
For his most famous speech, JFK’s 1961 Inaugural Address slowed down significantly. He slowed his usually high speaking rate down to below 100 wpm. JFK projected command, vigor, and charisma.
He achieved this using short sentences and action words. He had a focused message, and he conveyed it in an active voice.
JFK’s words per minute count were “Just Right” for the moment and the audience. Being this a live speech, he had some tools we don’t. He could pause, use facial expressions and body language, and keep attention focused on him.
We can’t do this effectively during a voice-over, but there are methods to capture attention and reach optimal words per minute.
For a greater mastery of your words per minute, you need to plan your podcast episode carefully. And how to plan podcast episode structure is exactly the topic of our next episode, so make sure you follow the show.
In summary, words per minute speaking rate is an extremely powerful tool. When you apply it well, you can boost your comprehension, clarify and improve listeners’ experience.
You should speak at about 150 to 160 words per minute. It is the upper range that people comfortably hear, vocalize words, and it ensures full comprehension of your material.
But you definitely should speak slower or faster in the right moment to achieve a specific result.
I want you to remember that this is a powerful tool and one that you should practice and improve over time.