You’re preparing to write a speech but there’s a 5-minute time limit. Now, you’re faced with the big question: How many words should you use then?
Any resource will tell you that you can only approximate the number of words it would take to write a 5-minute speech.
Publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant says that the average person speaks about 125-150 words per minute—meaning 5 minutes of talking would entail about 625-750 words. That’s about the typical length of a blog article!
Here’s a fun exercise for you—we’re keeping this blog article to 750 words so you can read it out loud to see if it would fit into the 5-minute time limit. How’s that for an experiment?
When you do this oral exercise, keep in mind that there are other factors which might affect the results. People speak in varying speeds—some speak slowly, others do the exact opposite. The good news is, it is easier to adjust the speed of delivery as compared to the number of words used. Beyond the word count, being able to communicate the essence of your speech clearly and eloquently is more important.
Pacing yourself helps you articulate better and emphasize the most salient parts of your speech. You’re not just putting yourself out there to say something — retention is key. You have to make your message (or at least the crux of it) memorable to your audience.
Just like a novel, the content needs to pack a punch in order to sustain the audience’s interest. If you think about it, a speech should work even harder because (1) it’s shorter and (2) it’s purely an aural experience which requires the full attention of your audience.
Before you start writing, Jeff Schmitt of Forbes advises keeping these two objectives in mind: “Make a good impression and leave your audience with two or three takeaways.”
Schmitt also highlights the importance of “striking the right tone.” Know your audience well, their reasons for wanting to listen to your speech, and what they want out of it.
Matt Eventoff of YPO elaborates on several “memorable ways to open a speech or presentation.” A quote, “what if” scenario, or statistic are some of the methods you can utilize to captivate your audience.
To make your speech more interesting, Gray-Grant advises “to tell stories or give examples” because stories “stick” and people actually recall them. Another approach is to use humor to break the monotony, but only when it serves an “organic” and relevant purpose for your topic or message. Try not to detract from the flow and coherence of your speech or from the essence of your message.
Just like what chapter breaks are to a novel, remember to integrate cues for pauses or breaks in between points of your speech in order to signal the end of one topic and to smoothly transition to the next.
Keep your language simple and conversational to maximize engagement with your audience. Scholastic gives some tips like using short sentences, contractions, and colloquialisms in your speech.
Avoid tongue-twisters or big words that are difficult to articulate in one breath. You will only subject yourself to potential blunders. This will deflate your confidence in delivering the speech effectively.
Most importantly, get your facts straight. Any speech can be engaging and witty, but people look for truthfulness and credibility more than anything. Citing concrete examples to prove a point is a persuasive method as well. Real-life actualizations are truths in the minds of your listeners. Thus, they will remain engaged on what else you have to say.
Toss a question or two for a bit of introspection. Some people actually do this either at the beginning or at the end of a speech. Making your audience think brings your message across more effectively because it opens up the opportunity for them to contemplate on an application of your insight into their daily lives.
After writing your speech, review the entire material for clarity and brevity. Simplify and tighten the language if need be.
Attention spans are shorter these days (8.25 seconds, according to a study made by the Static Brain Research Institute) so the more succinct you are, the better.
If you can, divide the word count equally among each salient point of your speech. For example, 750 words with 4 key topics would mean around 187 words dedicated for each topic.
Be concise yet comprehensive—and remember to use our word counter to keep it brief.