Mar, 2019

How Many Words in a Speech

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Have you ever spoken at an event and about two-thirds of the way through your presentation they give you the signal for five minutes left?  You go into hyperdrive, talking faster and skipping slides, just hoping to get to that last third.  The problem is you are now rushing the part of the speech that ties everything together.  Having been in the audience for too many of these types of presentations, I always walk away thinking that it is like watching a movie that ends abruptly, leaving you stuck with a bunch of loose ends.

The underlying cause of this is too much content.  In our eagerness to help, we become too ambitious with the scope of our presentation.  You can eliminate this by a little pre-speech planning.

Understand the True Time      

A 45-minute speech is not 45 minutes of your content.  You have to allow time for the introduction, for the audience to digest the valuable ideas you share, for them to laugh at the humor sprinkled in and for the audience to ask questions.  This is the way I would breakdown a 45-minute speech:

Introduction: 3 minutes

Questions (20% of presentation time): 9 minutes

Buffer (5% of presentation time): 2.25 minutes

Now, this time amounts to 14:25 minutes; 15 minutes if you round up. So, any time left is the length of time my content needs to fill so, in this case, is about 30 minutes at the most.

Create the Content 

When I create the content, I like to have an idea of how many pages or words the speech should be.  Having a word count helps me better understand how many words I should write for each section.  I use the chart below to give me an approximate word count for a speech.  Speaking at an average of 130 words per minute means I should have about 3,900 words in total for 30 minutes of content.  Using these parameters allows me to know before I even practice the speech that I am close, so I won’t try to cut out large portions or add more content.

Speech/Video LengthApprox. Word Count
1 Minute130 words
1.5 Minutes195 words
2 Minutes260 words
2.5 Minutes325 words
3 Minutes390 words
4 Minutes520 words
5 Minutes650 words
10 Minutes1300 words
15 Minutes1950 words
20 Minutes2600 words
25 Minutes3250 words
30 Minutes3900 words
35 Minutes4550 words
40 Minutes5200 words
45 Minutes5850 words
50 Minutes6500 words
55 Minutes7150 words
60 Minutes7800 words


It is critical to run some practice sessions on your content before you give the speech.  I read my script a couple of times out loud to find awkward areas that I might want to change and smooth out.  Once I feel like it is exactly the way I will deliver it, I stand up to practice the delivery of the speech and the timing.  At this point, I only have to make small adjustments to the timing as needed.  You are always better finishing a little early rather than running late but not too early as that effects the organizer’s timetable.

Seems Like a Lot of Work

It might sound like more work than you are used to, but this method helps me save time by not creating content that I am not going to be able to deliver.  The preparation also benefits your audience by delivering a presentation that is complete and not rushed.

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