HELP... How many words can you speak in a minute in a comfortable pace?

I’m writing up a transcript for a technical presentation I’m giving, has to be 30 to 40 minutes in length. I’m deaf and I have no idea what the “normal” pace of speaking is, and I’d like to know how many words a minute is appropriate for a comfortable pace before I rehearse & find that I wrote something way too short or something way too long.

Although the presentation is technical, I’m avoiding the really big words as much as possible due to pronouncation difficulties, so assume a vocabulary slightly to moderately above average. While I can always time my own speech, I also do not have a very good idea of what a “good” pace is, so I would love to hear others’ opinions on what an appropriate pace of speech is. (Also got a few job interviews technical in nature coming up… sigh…)

Thank you. This will really help.

The formula that I use in radio production is approximately three words per second. This is a comfortable, understandable pace for most people. If you’re dealing with longer words, though, figure on two words or so per second. This works out to 120 to 180 words a minute.

To get over pronunciation difficulties, use phonetic pronunciation in the transcript. For example:

“Pizza (PEET-za) tastes good with pepperoni (PEP-per-OH-nee) and sausage (SAW-sij).” A good dictionary can help you with these.


In teleprompter school they taught us that you should shoot for about six syllables per second, FWIW.

Oy, a transcript of approximately 5000 words. Thank you very much.

GREAT idea.

I’ll be flying today, so I may not have the time to respond until tomorrow. Thanks!

180 WPM? 6 syllables per second? Jeez Louise, people tell me that I’m a motormouth! (well, I’ve never measured how fast I talk, but the ex got a kick out of the fact that I talk fast. He said that it was my only distinguishing mark of where I grew up since I’m largely accentless.)

When you average it out, six syllables per second is roughly three words a second. It’s really not that fast. That’s the average speed of a radio announcer, and for the most part, for most conversation.

And 5000 words isn’t that much, either. I had to come up with an hour’s worth this week. The PowerPointless looks great!


Hello all, my presentation lasted exactly 40 minutes, thanks to your stellar advice. You guys are lifesavers. I probably would have gone with a 2000 word one otherwise.

There’s no way in hell I can make my Southern mouth go 180 wpm, or my Southern ears to comprehend it. :smiley:

It’s GQ, and I don’t have a cite, so I hesitated to post this, but:

I remember that the “Text to speech” settings of one of my computers used to have the slider bar in words per minute, with the center point on 160. Which, given the slightly greater enunciation requirement of computer-generated speech, seems to match up pretty well with the 180 suggested here.

(Interestingly, the several-years-old speech recognition program I have wants a speaking rate of 50-80 words per minute – at which point it doesn’t have much compelling benefit over a decent typist, except as a hands-free novelty. And given it’s poor error rate, much less.)

Anyway, I just checked Mac OS X Tiger and Win XP, and both now give the text to speech speed bar as some variant on “slow - med - fast”, which doesn’t help.

Back in my radio days, it was 125-150 words per minute. However (and it’s a big however) that was based on the fact that we were in the South. People thought my native Missouri drawl (which probably never went over 175 wpm) was too fast. In New York, we probably could have written for 200 wpm and not have a problem.

Just to throw this out there, the National Court Reporter’s Association certification program, which is the base-level national certification for U.S. court reporters (your country and/or state may vary) involves tests at up to 220 words per minute. There is a speed challenge test which, at one point, at least, is at 240 wpm.

My point merely being that normal speaking situations would presumably be quite a bit lower than these, which confirms what’s said here previously.

Basing the speed of a seminar or presentation on radio rates probably isn’t a good idea. On radio and television, especially in the news, the focus is on covering as many stories as possible in a limited amount of time. In a presentation where you want your audience to hear and understand everything you say, aiming at the low end (120 to 150 wpm) is a much better idea than flying through it at 220 wpm or faster, as newscasters often do.

No, because the goal in radio (at least in the kind of radio stuff I do, which isn’t news) is to speak as conversationally as possible. Going fast is counterproductive because people won’t understand you. (Of course, when you have a 30-second window for traffic and weather, you have to speak quickly.)

That said, my natural speed is somewhere between 120-150 words a minute, and I’ve been told it can be annoying. I also run long and have to electronically speed things up a bit to make the 30- or 60-second window.