Rice Speechwriting

Word Count to Minutes: How Many Words Per Minute in a Speech?

word count to minutes

How do I figure out my word count to minutes when it comes to speechwriting? How do I ensure that my speech is too long or too short?

Every speaker asks those questions and it depends on whether or not you are giving your speech live or recorded. We tend to speak around 135-150 words per minute. Speechwriters preparing speeches for the Democratic National Convention had the hard task of preparing for all of the speeches to be online and without the usual applause, cheering, and crowd reactions. One large finding was that the speeches could be at a speed of 150 words per minute!

The speed at which you speak is important because it can help you emphasize particular points and to take parts slower if they are more complex for the crowd. It’s OK to take your time in some places and speed up in others. Reading your speech to yourself on paper is different than giving it out loud–we typically read faster than we speak.

Here’s a table based on the range above that can help you quickly gauge how long your speech needs to be if you have a specific a time frame in which to deliver it. Keep 150 words per minute as the upper speed limit as your audience will struggle to keep up with you if you go any faster.

Word Counter: How Many Words Per Minute in a Speech (wpm)

Speech Word Counter135 wpm140 wpm145 wpm150 wpm
How many words in a 3 minute speech405420435450
How many words in a 5 minute speech675700725750
How many words in a 10 minute speech1350140014501500
How many words in a 15 minute speech2025210021752250
How many words in a 20 minute speech2700280029003000
Word Count To Minutes

For some speeches not included above, some people frequently ask about:

How many words can you say in 12 minutes?

This should be anywhere from 1,620 words to 1,800 words.

How long is a 1 minute speech?

Around 135 words to 150 words

How many words can you say in 1.5 minutes?

Anywhere from 202 to 225 words

You can also use the chart above to go backwards–starting with a word count and finding the approximate amount of minutes:

How long is a 500 word speech?

Around 4 minutes

What about a 1,000 word speech?

Around 6 to 7 minutes

How long is a 1500 word speech?

About 9-10 minutes

What about a 2000 word speech?

Around 15 minutes

How long is a 3,000 word speech?

Around 18-20 minutes

How to use this chart to plan out the number of minutes in your next speech:

How to take this chart and make it useful to create your next speech:

It’s best when you’re on a strict time limit or there are multiple speakers–no one in the crowd likes it when one speaker cuts into another speaker’s time. You can also use it when you create your speech–you can be confident that you have a good estimate of where your text needs to be and if it’s too long or too short. People differ when it comes to editing–some like to write a ton of words and then edit down whereas others are better are writing a small amount of wrods and then adding more words in–use which ever method works best for you.

Know your own average words per minute speaking rate first

Here’s how to find your own speaking rate:

  1. Take the text of a speech online or in a book
  2. Set a time for 3 minutes–give the speech in the allotted time
  3. Mark the spot after 3 minutes and take the word count so far and divide by 3 (you can select a portion of text in Word or Google Docs and then use Tools>Word Count and both programs will tell you the count for that portion)
  4. Determine where you fall within each word count range and plan accordingly

Use word counts as estimations and ranges:

The word counts above are averages–each speech you give isn’t given at the exact same rate the whole time. Some parts will be slower and faster than others. As long as your draft is within the range per minute, then you should feel comfortable delivering it in that time frame. Err on the side of the shorter speech–no crowd members has ever complained that a speech was too short.

Common Speech Word Count Ranges:

How many words in a 3 minute speech: 405-450
How many words in a 5 minute speech: 675-750
How many words in a 10 minute speech: 1350-1500
How many words in a 15 minute speech: 2025-2250
How many words in a 20 minute speech: 2700-3000

How many minutes in typical speech types?

Wedding toasts: Shorter ones (rehearsal dinners and friends) are around three minutes but more important ones can range from five to ten minutes (think best man, maid of honor, father of the bride)

Other toasts: Whether you are toasting someone for their retirement, promotion, anniversary, or wedding speech, keep the number of minutes around 3-7 minutes, similar to the wedding toast length. Consider 10 minutes to be your upper limit for your audience’s patience.

Award acceptance speeches: These can be on a strict time limit (like the Oscar’s) at 45 seconds! But if it’s an event honoring you, your speech should probably be around 10-15 minutes.

Stump speeches: These are the trickiest to plan for an exact minute for politicians. You need to create a stump speech for all the ranges of occasions where you’ll be asked to speak. Write a 30-second stump speech; a 5 minute stump speech; a 10 minute; even a 20 minute keynote address. Get creative and find a way to take your message and translate it into different minute lengths.

Graduation speeches: Check with the event organizer for how much time you’re allotted. However, if none is given, assume around 10 minutes but upwards of 15-20 minutes if you’re the keynote speaker for the event. I always prefer 10 minutes as graduations often have many speakers.

Keynote speeches: This type of speech varies on the occasion and your role as the speaker. If you’re trying to reproduce a TEDx talk, keep it to around 18 minutes (TED’s upper limit). If you’re the main speaker for a conference (like the opener or closer), you could be expected to speak anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes or even an hour. Once again, it’s OK to err on the shorter side so that your audience doesn’t tune you out.

Plan for fewer words per minute for time for technical delays, Q&A, needing to elaborate on parts, impromptu ideas

Rather than plan for the maximum amount of words per minute in a speech, start with a lower amount or fewer number of minutes and account for time for inevitable interruptions.

Condense multiple words with similar meanings into one or two words that mean the same thing:

Speechwriters love repetition–it helps the audience keep track of where they are and it helps with rhythm. Notice how many times words or phrases are used in multiples of three. However, if you need to reduce your word count in a speech, you can take lists of three words and condense them into one. You may need to sacrifice rhythm for brevity at times. You don’t have to cut out each three-word series–leave the best ones at the beginning and end of your speech.

Next Steps for Getting Your Speech’s Word Count Correct:

For your next speech or presentation, set a goal the next time you write to limit yourself to a certain number of words or to hit a minimum threshold depending on the situation.

Try writing your presentation in different lengths if you have ample latitude–what is the 3-minute speech vs. 10 minute speech version?

Use speech word counts as a guide and you’ll hit your mark each time.

Photo Credit: Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

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