Presenting a speech in front of a crowd of people can be scary. If you’re someone unaccustomed to giving big speeches, your palms may start to sweat and your body may shake, all before you ever utter your first word. It’s normal to experience stage fright. Most expert speakers agree, preparing well can be your best protection against nervousness. If you’re going to speak in public, it may help to write down the words you want to say.
Let’s imagine you need to give a 5-minute speech at a wedding. How much text should you prepare? In order to give that wedding toast, you should probably write 625-750 words. We arrived at that figure by taking the number of words per minute (WPM) that the average person speaks and multiplying it by the number of minutes you’ll need to speak, which is 5. The average person speaks 125-150 WPM.
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It’s easy to do this math on your own. For a 3-minute speech, you would just multiply 125 by 3 to get the minimum number of words you’d need. The answer is 375. Now, picture a scenario where you have to give a 20-minute speech. What’s your maximum word count? Just take the high end of the WPM range and multiply it by 20.
150 x 20 = 3,000
So, for a 20-minute speech, you’d be well-prepared by writing something with less than 3,000 words. Remember, if you prepare a text that’s too lengthy, you could get cut off before you reach your conclusion.
A Note on Accuracy
Keep in mind, the average reading speed that’s cited above is just an average. You may find that you tend to talk faster or slower than other people. If you know you speak very quickly when you’re nervous, you may want to write an 850-word speech for your 5-minute toast, just to be safe. Someone who speaks slowly might only need 600 words to fill five minutes.
In order to calculate your own speaking speed with precision, you should record yourself. That way, you’ll get an accurate personal WPM count, which reflects your true speaking pace. Once you have that figure, you can use it to calculate the word count for any speech you plan to give. It can also be helpful to rehearse with a stopwatch, whenever you’re working within a time limit. By timing yourself, you can see exactly how many seconds you need to cut or add to your speech.
Advice for All Public Speakers
Excellent speakers practice their presentation skills, so that they feel confident in their ability to make it through a speech without stumbling. It’s common for a speaker to write a phrase that looks good on the page. Then, when they present the speech, the phrase proves difficult to say out loud. By practicing your actual speech before going onstage, you’ll be able to identify your own speech patterns. If there’s a better way to say something, you can rewrite the words to make things flow more organically.
Writing out a speech is a good idea; however, as you get more comfortable with speech writing, you may find yourself improvising more often. Someone very comfortable with public speaking can go “off script,” adding extemporaneous content, while still paying attention to the passage of time. Until you develop that advanced-level ability, it’s best to write out your speeches. Preparing something, even a simple outline with the key topics you want to discuss, can help you stay organized and calm.
Remember, the most important part of giving a speech is connecting with your audience. If you can do that, you’ll succeed no matter what subject matter you’re discussing.
The Word Counter is a dynamic online tool used for counting words, characters, sentences, paragraphs, and pages in real time, along with spelling and grammar checking.
Kari Lisa Johnson
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.