Speech writing tips – How many words?

how many words in a speech

When I first started writing speeches, I struggled to know how many words to write for a speech of a given length.  The only way I would know was to rehearse the speech and time how long it lasted.

I have since learned that I typically speak at an average of  80-100 words per minute (wpm) when presenting in public. This knowledge allows me to calculate quickly how many words I need to write  i.e. 400-500 words for a five-minute speech.

Now not everybody speaks at the same pace.   Some books quote the average speaking rate as around 125 words per minute but remember that there is a significant difference between normal conversation and public speaking.   The best public speakers tend, on average to speak a bit slower so I would recommend that you start off with around 100 wpm and see how you get on.   Most word processors have a word count function built into them, so it's easy to check how much you have written.

Of course, it goes without saying that when writing a speech of any length don't  forget the basics.  You need an engaging opening, a powerful conclusion and relevant body content. You also need to remember to rehearse it out loud.  Give as much time to planning the delivery as you do to planning the content.

And now that you know how many words to use, you'll want to know what sort of content to put into your presentation for maximum impact.  Enter your email address in the form below and we’ll send you a free copy of our practical guide to great presentation content plus regular presentation tips.

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12 Comments

  1. Shari' Alexander on 15/06/2009 at 23:49

    Great tip Gavin. I’ve heard many different estimates of average words per minute, but if people can find their own speech pace, they can easily time their presentation. Thanks!

  2. Tom on 15/08/2011 at 11:11

    Hi,

    I made this easy to use calculator to help you work out how many words to put in your speech

    http://speech-length-calculator.appspot.com/

    Cheers

    Tom

    • Gavin Meikle on 23/08/2011 at 08:57

      Hi Tom
      Thanks for sharing your speech words calculator. I am sure that many readers will find it a useful tool to help them prepare their presentations and speeches.

    • - on 20/04/2012 at 01:51

      What's the maths fomulua behind your calculator?

      • Jan on 29/01/2013 at 10:49

        The formula seems to be: time*speed*nervousness.

        Speed is either 1 (slow), 1.2, 1.4 (fast). Nervousness is 1 for “I’m cool”, 1.25 for “I’m nervous”.

        • Jan on 29/01/2013 at 14:30

          Correction: Forgot to add a scaling factor: 10*time*speed*nervousness.

  3. Rod on 25/02/2013 at 21:40

    “Of course it goes without saying…” So why say it?

    • Gavin Meikle on 27/02/2013 at 08:39

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Rod

  4. greg on 03/07/2013 at 18:40

    good note, i am having to do 40 mins in china, so i think i will plan for 3,500 word / max 4,000 as i need to go slow for translators and i will have 50 or so slides ? any view

    • Gavin Meikle on 07/07/2013 at 09:38

      Thank Greg. Working with a translator brings a whole new dimension and you certainly do need to slow down plus you need to also insert more pauses so that the translator can do their stuff. I think you may need to go for even fewer words! Whilst this can be a chalenge, the discipline of editing your content down to the essentials is often very useful. I recall being a delegate at a 3 day workshop in Japan where the trainer was Amercian and half of the 100 delegates were Japanese! He had a live interpreter so he would say a piece, step back and then she would translate. When he first started, I thought the gaps for translation would be a real pain but actually, it gave me more time to think about what we were being taught and it worked really well.

  5. Anonymous on 04/01/2015 at 07:22

    can i have 150 words all in all?

    • Gavin Meikle on 16/01/2015 at 09:32

      Thanks for your comment. I’d love to respond but I am not entirely sure what you mean? Could you tell me more?

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