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How Fast Do I Speak? (Update) - Lisa B Marshall

How Fast Do I Speak? (Update)

I answered a Quora Question:

For the average person speaking at a normal pace, what is the typical number of words they can say in one minute?

I am a professional speaker and podcast host and I speak at approximately 145-160 words per minute (wpm), while many sources state that average American English speaker engaged in a friendly conversation speaks at a rate of approximately 110–150 wpm.

I wrote a blog post “How fast do you speak?” If you are interested in finding out your rate of speech.

According to the National Center for Voice and Speech the average rate for English speakers in the US is about 150 wpm. Interestingly, publishers recommend books on tape to be voiced at 150-160 wpm (my publisher told me this), auctioneers are generally 250-400 wpm while the average reading rate is about 200-300 wpm.

As far as I know, the current fastest female talker on record is Fran Capo who speaks at over 600 words per minutes. Discovery did an interesting show on her with psycholinguistic analysis by Dr. Burgess.   If you’re old enough you might remember the FedEx commercials with John Moschitta. What’s interesting is that most of us can understand John; he’s at our limit of understanding, yet most don’t understand Fran who speaks much faster.

However all of us speak at different rates at different times. Natural speech includes bursts of more rapid speech and in addition, we are all capable of speaking faster and slower when we want. Of course, there are also variations in speed associated with the situation in which the speech is being produced.

We speak more rapidly if we are in a hurry, or saying something urgent, or trying not to be interrupted in a conversation. For many people, nervousness or excitement will also increase the rate of speech. Conversely, we tend to speak more slowly when we are tired or bored. I know for me, I tend to talk more slowly and with more non-words (um, ah, pauses, etc.) when making impromptu presentations and while practicing delivery of new presentation materials. Clearly the emotional (and perhaps alcoholic <smile>) state of the speaker influences the rate of speaking.

Finally, I think there is also a cultural and personal element. In some places, like

New York City people tend to naturally talk faster, while in other locales people talk much slower. Culturally, if English isn’t the speakers first language, that can also slow down the rate of speech. In addition, some people are naturally fast talkers, while others habitually speak slowly. I was a fast talker even as a child.

My mother was constantly telling me to slow down and breathe!

What’s interesting to me are the perceptions that people form based on rate of speech. In 1976 psychologists looked at speech rate and persuasion (Miller et al.).  The results suggested that faster speakers (195 wpm) were more persuasive than slower speakers (102 wpm).  However, in 1991 Smith and Shaffer suggested a more nuanced relationship.  They suggested that when messages that were counter-attitudinal, fast-talking was more persuasive, yet, when the audience inherently agreed with the message (pro-attitudinal) slow speech emerged as the most persuasive.

I recorded a podcast (>10 min) about vocal variety that includes a short section on rate of speech.

References:

Effects of pitch and speech rate on personal attributions Apple, William; Streeter, Lynn A. Krauss, Robert M.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 37 (5), May 1979, 715-727

Celerity and Cajolery: Rapid Speech May Promote or Inhibit Persuasion through its impact on Message Elaboration, Stephen M. Smith,  David R. Shaffer, Personality ans Social Psychology Bulletin, December 1991, vol 17 no 6 663-669

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