Unless you’re an audiobook narrator or a frequent public speaker (or you have some other job involving the relationship between time and speech), you might not have any idea how many words people tend to utter in a given minute.
First off, it depends on what kind of speaking you’re doing: a presentation, a norm conversation, etc. But even when you break it into separate categories, words-per-minute estimates vary widely. If you’re casually talking to a friend, some sources claim that you’re probably saying somewhere between 100 and 130 words per minute, while others cite the range as 120 to 150 words. According to professional speech training firm Successfully Speaking, conversational speech is typically in the 150-180 ballpark.
Whatever the average conversational speech rate may be, it’s generally agreed that presentations should be spoken more slowly than that. Improve Podcast estimates that the average falls between 100 and 150 words per minute. But speeches are fairly often given at a quicker pace. VirtualSpeech crunched the numbers on five popular TED talks of various lengths and found that the speaking rates actually fell between 154 (delivered by Brené Brown) and 201 (Tony Robbins) words per minute, for an average of 173 wpm.
On the whole, audiobook narrators, radio hosts, and podcasters supposedly speak slightly faster than they would during a regular chat: around 150 to 160 words per minute. Auctioneers are in a class of their own, clocking roughly 250 words per minute. And commentators, who need to keep up with fast-paced play, may even outpace auctioneers.
But when it comes to the fastest talker of all, nobody’s ever done it better than Sean Shannon, who holds the Guinness World Record for ‘fastest talker.’ In 1995, Shannon recited the 260-word ‘To be or not to be’ speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 23.8 seconds—which works out to 655 words per minute.
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