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Speech writing tips – How many words in a speech?

how many words in a speech


When I first started writing speeches, I struggled to get the correct length because I didn’t know how many words in a speech of a given length.  The only way I would know was by writing my script and then rehearsing it, using a timer to measure how long my presentation lasted.

Why speaking to time is important

Nobody appreciates a presenter who overruns, especially if they don’t seem to care. It’s seen as disrespectful both to the audience and to any other speakers that come after you.  One of the secrets of speaking to time is to know how many words in a speech of a given length.

I have since learned that I typically speak at an average of  90-120 words per minute (wpm) when presenting in public. This knowledge allows me to calculate how many words I need to write e.g. 1,1350 – 1500 words in a fifteen-minute speech or 500-600 words in a five-minute speech.

Now, not everybody speaks at the same pace, so the number of words in a speech will vary a little from speaker to speaker.  Some books quote the average speaking rate as around 125 words per minute (wpm) but remember that there is a BIG difference between the pace of normal conversation and a speech to an audience.  The best public speakers talk much slower when addressing an audience.

Calculate how many words in a speech

I would recommend that you start by using 100 wpm for your how many words in a speech calculation, 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, when writing a speech of any length you shouldn’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.

There’s more to writing a great speech than knowing how many words in a speech

So, now that you know how to calculate how many words in a speech, you’ll want to know what sort of content to put into your presentation for the greatest impact.  Enter your email address in the form below, and I’ll send you a free copy of my practical guide to great presentation content plus regular presentation tips.

how many wordsGet instant access to our free step by step content creation guide and learn how to craft persuasive presentations that generate results. Enter your email address below!

“I just wanted to leave you a quick testimonial about the presentation guide.  I have a session I am running at an international conference this month and although I have done many presentations the word count calculator along with your very clear framework has given me a really good way of evaluating if I am on the right tracks. Thank you for a concise and really useful guide” – Sheryl Andrews

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Speech writing tips – How many words?

  1. […] How many words? […]

  2. john on 13/04/2016 at 05:10

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this blog.

    • Gavin Meikle on 13/04/2016 at 15:30

      Thanks John
      I appreciate your feedback. Unlike public speaking where you can see your audience and sense their response, blog writing can feel a bit detached at times, so it’s great when people take the time and trouble to comment. If you have any specific questions, or would like me to write about a topic that it of interest to you, please feel free to get in touch.

  3. 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?

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

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

  6. - 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

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