So you got asked to give a speech, and you’ve been given 30 minutes. How much material is that? A classic faux pas of an inexperienced speaker is to undershoot or overshoot the mark you’ve been given and have too little or too much to say. Of the two, speaking too long is by far the worse sin. No one ever complained because a speech was too short.
How do you estimate the length of the speech? Fortunately, Word has made this easy. Get a word count, and divide by 125, and you’ll have the length of your speech. People speak at the rate of 125 words per minute, on average.
Of course, for that number to be useful, you have to have written out your speech. What if you haven’t? What if it’s just a collection of Power Point slides — or notes scribbled on the back of an envelope? Here, practice helps. I worked with Professor E. D. Hirsch (of cultural literacy fame) when I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, and I saw his notes for one of the most brilliant lectures on the history of philosophy I ever heard. The notes were as follows: Aristotle…..Plato…..Hume….Nietzsche….
That’s right — 4 words. And he spoke for exactly 85 minutes, leaving time for a question or two at the end of the 90-minute session.
If you’re not that clever, you’ll have to rehearse. That’s a good idea anyway, after all. Too many inexperienced speakers (and some experienced ones who should know better) just think the speech out in their heads, and then discover in the event that the transitions kill you when you haven’t practiced them.
That 30-minute speech is 3750 words. Long enough to get into trouble if you don’t rehearse. And do write out that speech. That way you’ll find out where the awkward transitions are.