Do you speak too fast?

When we talk about rate in speaking it means how fast someone speaks. This is very important when giving a presentation because you don’t want to be too fast and difficult to understand or too slow and bore everyone.

According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the average American speaks at about 150 words per minute. However, your real rate will vary depending on several factors, which may include:

  • Nervousness
  • Speaking in a second language
  • How many filler words (ahs and ums) you use
  • How many pauses you use

Most non-native speakers of English worry that they are speaking too slow in English and that this has a negative impact on their presentation.  I would argue that it is better to be too slow than too fast. I would rather be a bit bored than not understand the speaker at all. However, with practice you can make sure that you do neither!

How can you find out how fast you speak?

The easiest way to do this is find an article online, time yourself for one minute while reading out loud and then use a word processing program to count how many words you read in that minute. I would do it with three different articles to get a good average, as the difficulty of a text may change your rate.

This may not be your exact rate, as this is more of a ‘reading rate’, but it is a good starting point. If you want a more accurate rate, film one of your presentations and count the words you said in the first minute.

Many people (myself included) speak too fast. A potential cause of this is that the brain processes 400 words per minute! We think about more words than we can actually get out at a normal conversational rate of about 125-150 words per minute. (Essential Study Skills, L. Wong)

How can you slow down your speaking rate?

Add pauses.

I will cover this more in detail in a future post, but adding pauses after key points can help slow down your speaking rate. It also gives the audience a chance to absorb what you’ve said.

Rehearsing something with a fixed word count.

Someone told me once write a 5 minute speech and give it in 7 minutes. This meant that I had to slow down from 150 words per minute to about 110 words per minute. By practicing the same speech several times at the new rate I was able to slow down my rate in the final presentation (even when I was nervous).

How can you speed up your speaking rate?

I recommend against trying to speak faster, unless your rate is a lot lower than 100 words per minute. In case you do want to speak a bit faster, the best way is with practice.

The more you speak in English, the easier it will be to speak faster. You can do this by simply reading out loud. Tongue Twisters are particularly good, because they will stop you from speaking so fast that you are tripping over your words.

RATE: the speed at which something happens or changes – Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary & Thesaurus

This is part of the Word Wednesday series, posts dedicated to improving your speaking vocabulary. Each Wednesday we will look at one word or expression by defining it and explaining how it applies to your presentations.

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