Understanding Speaking Rate

Speaking rate is one of voice cues, along with pitchOpens in new window, volumeOpens in new window, hesitation and silenceOpens in new window affecting the communication of meaning.

Rate is the term given to the speed at which you speak. It is one of the elements of paralanguageOpens in new window, used to assess how fast or slow a person speaks. It is not language but it accompanies all of your spoken use of languageOpens in new window and can convey attitude and emotion.

Rate usually varies depending on the speaker's emotions at the time of speaking or the type of message one is communicating. For example, a speaker experiencing joy will speak at a fast rate compared to one who is expressing surprise who will speak at a much faster rate.

Most of us speak at an average rate of 150 words per minute. When we speed up our speech, exceeding 275 to 300 words per minute, it is difficult for others to comprehend what we are saying, and our message thus becomes virtually unintelligible. In contrast, if we speak too slowly, others may perceive us as tentative or lacking in confidence or intelligence.

Studies show that the rate of speaking in audiobooks is about 150-160 words per minute whereas auctioneers can speak at about 250 wpm. According to the Guinness World RecordOpens in new window, the current fastest speaker is Steve WoodmoreOpens in new window, who was clocked at a rate of 637 wpm.

Rate may also be a factor for others to judge our intensity and mood. As your rate increases, so do assessments of your level of emotional intensity.

When talking about more serious subjects, we often slow down; on the other hand, our speaking rate usually accelerates as we shift to talking about lighter topics.

In many ways, rate reflects the pulse of your words. It quickens to relay agitation, excitement, and happiness, and it falls to convey seriousness, serenity, or sadnesss.

Important Tips For Speakers 
  • When speaking you want to speak at a varied rate so that you can emphasize important parts of your message.
  • You also want to change the rate for the mood or emotion of the message and the occasion. If you want to show excitement at a pep rally you will naturally speak at a faster rate than if you were speaking at a funeral where you would speak slower because you are sad or contemplative.
  • You might also speak slower if you are making choices and thinking carefully about what you are saying; a slower pace may conveys your thoughtfulness to the audience.
  • Use a recorder to record your speech so you can clock your actual speaking rate.
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