How fast do most people talk? Usually between 115 - 150 words per minute, or “wpm.” Some speakers do go faster for effect - Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the mega-best seller Eat Pray Love, reached 187 wpm in her TED talk. (Al Gore, noted slow talker, ambled in at 135 WPM on the TED stage.) See more TED talkers’ talking speeds here.
How do you know if you are “over the speech limit”?
Most fast talkers know it - probably because they’ve been asked to “Slow down!” by listeners. But if you want to know your exact wpm, I explain how to measure it at the end of the blog.
So why does your talking speed matter?
There’s a few reasons, and the first is that audiences notice it. We listeners can take in what fast talkers say, but it’s not fun - or satisfying - to listen to. Try it here with this hilarious old Fed Ex commercial.
Your audience can’t absorb what you’re saying
Even though public speaking may look like a monologue, it’s actually a conversation. The audience is responding, questioning, and commenting, but it’s all happening in their head. This silent internal response process is necessary for them to feel engaged, but they won’t have the time to do it if they are trying to keep up with your “talk tsunami.”
Rapid speech can be interpreted read as fear or anxiety
If we speak too fast in a professional environment, audiences often see us as lacking confidence or being defensive. They might think the fast talker wants to prevent interruptions or challenges with an impenetrable wall of words - which is true! (Of course, it’s different with friends and family where fast talking is common and accepted.)
And it’s not good for you the speaker either!
When speakers are going super fast, they’re usually so focused on “getting it all out,” that they have no meaningful contact with the audience. They may look like they are making eye contact, but in their heads they’re focused only on th torrent of words that’s fire hosing out of them. If you’re not really connected to your audience, you can’t “listen” and observe what they seem to be telling you. That wonderful connection between speaker and listener is what I call “I contact,” and fast talkers often don’t get enough of it.
Rapid speech is reducing your oxygen - and your enjoyment
When you’re speaking fast, you’re not breathing deeply enough - in fact, you just don’t have time to breathe much at all! And deep slow breathing is THE most powerful way to calm yourself down immediately. Without good breathing, you’re not getting enough air, which makes you more anxious and more likely to talk even faster.
Three ways to slow.... your....speech....
1. Feel your belly Your belly will tell you whether you're breathing deeply or not. And breathing deep and slow is ESSENTIAL if you want to slow down. Put your hand on your belly and take a deep breath. Your full lungs should make your belly move out a bit. (It’s called belly breathing, but your not really breathing into your belly.) Practice feeling your breathing as you speak and then, for practice, make good deep slow breathing a priority as you speak. And if you want to delve into the breathing, this is a good place.
2. Do the “turtle talk” exercise “Turtle talk” is an exercise to help fast talkers gain more control over their speaking speed. Do it when you’re alone, because it’s going to feel - and sound - a little weird. Here’s what you do: Say a sentence out loud - or read a sentence. Keep repeating the sentence slower every time - until it’s very very slow. Now say or read the sentence naturally. You will probably notice that your natural pace has slowed down! Try to “turtle talk” regularly and definitely when you rehearse a presentation.
Once you get used to slowing your speech, take time to notice how it makes you feel. Many people I work with say that just speaking more slowly makes them feel calmer and more confident. They also feel a stronger connection with their words and their audience.
So how slow should you go in a real talk? This is where practice and listening comes in. Notice how slowing down makes you feel. Then imagine you've got a speed knob that you can use to increase and decrease your rate for maximum effect, just as you might raise and lower your volume when you want to.
3. Make friends with silence Fast talkers are often allergic to pauses because silence can make us feel vulnerable. When there is no talking - even for a few seconds, speakers feel exposed to judgement and scrutiny. Many fast talkers avoid pauses so there won’t be time for disagreement or challenge. But the truth is, people can disagree with you no many how fast you’re going.
But if you can begin to tolerate very short periods of silence, you’ll experience the calmness it brings you and the power it brings to your speaking. And then as your comfort with silence grows, you’ll notice what an effective tool it is for you and the audience. So try it out - with just tiny pauses at the end of sentences - and then notice what happens.
How to measure your speech rate Find something that you are comfortable talking about - could be a work topic, family, anything that doesn’t require you to read text. If you have an actual presentation, record a little bit of that.
1 Find a “text to type” app that records your voice and turns it into text.
I often use google docs voice typing tool, but there’s lots of free ones out there.
2. Record yourself speaking for a few minutes.
Set a timer so the recording will be a round number of minutes.
3. When you’re done, use a word count tool to determine the total number of words and then divide that number by the number of minutes or the recording. That’s your “Words per minute rate.”
Fast talker fun fact:
Which state has the fastest talkers? Surprisingly, it’s Oregon! Weird, right? Didn’t you think it would be New York? New Yorkers aren’t even in the top five fast talkers, but they are the most talkative people in the country.