A good presentation is never rushed and always well-timed. Yet many speakers struggle to properly pace themselves. I was recently asked to evaluate a presentation and the pacing stood out as the first thing to be remedied. The presentation ran almost 20% over the allotted time and still felt a little rushed.
Here is the advice I gave the speaker:
- Calculate your speech rate, based on your presentation time
- Reduce your speech rate by 20%
- For your next presentation, use your reduced speech rate to calculate the word limit for your script
What’s my speech rate?
Your speech rate is the number of words you say per minute. Of course, this varies by person and situation. While the typical, conversational speech rate is around 160wpm (words per minute), you have to find out what yours is when you’re presenting. Timing yourself reading out loud won’t cut it. When you speak in front of an audience, things are different. You speak more slowly, loudly and clearly – more deliberately. You respond to – and interact with – the audience. You ad lib. All of these factors make a live presentation take longer than a table read.
So, take the word count of your script and divide it by the time you took to present. Sure, you most likely went off-script a few times. That’s good. We want to factor that in.
Suppose your script is 1800 words and your presentation took 12 minutes (should’ve been 10).
Speech Rate = words / minutes = words per minute
Speech Rate = 1800 / 12 = 150wpm
How can I use my speech rate to better pace my presentations?
As you went over time, you can see that your script should have been no more than 1500 words, not 1800. Take this a step further and knock off 10% so you don’t run right up to the buzzer. This will give you a buffer.
Speech Rate x 0.9 = Buffered Speech Rate
150 x 0.9 = 135wpm
Now take the buffered speech rate and multiply by your allotted time. In this example, that’s 1350 words. That’s your limit when writing your script.
Buffered Speech Rate x Time Allotment = Script Word Limit
Now for the speaker I mentioned earlier, I suggested a 20% buffer so he could actually slow down. If you have a tendency to talk too fast in your presentations, you can try doing the same.
Trial & Error
If you script your presentations, try doing this the next few times you present. Each time, examine the relationship between the word count of your script and the delivery time of your live presentation. Keep recording, analysing and adjusting until you know exactly how your written words convert to spoken words.