How Many Words in a Five-Minute Speech?
Five minutes can seem like five hours when you haven’t prepared a speech properly. It seems so easy in front of the mirror, reciting the key points, throwing in a few jokes.
But then the big day arrives, the nerves kick in, and you drone through your speech in a monotone, forget half the information, and anxiously fiddle with your notes. No one wants to hear an audience snoring.
So just how much should you try to fit into a five-minute speech? Presentation Magazine put the question to readers. The responses were varied.
Most estimated the number of words per minute around 80-150, but some said it could be as high as 180.
Some advised a slow, measured speech with pauses for effect, whilst others simply said that more words would equal more information, provided your speech isn’t too fast to understand. We’ve collected the best hints and tips from readers and included them below.
Settling on a word limit is less important than taking time to prepare and practise a structured presentation. Melvin Vu said:
“It is up to you. I don’t think we should set the number of pages or even the number of words a five-minute speech should contain. Know your audience. Know your material. Write it down. Even if it’s 10 pages (the font may be size 38 or something) so be it. You will know it is too long once you have practised out loud.”
Another strategy is to work out exactly what information you want to present, and divide it into clearly defined points. Sarah Liddle said:
“It’s not about the quantity but the quality. I wouldn’t be focusing so much on the number of words but on the points that you want to put across. In five minutes you should be able to get across 2 points (3 max) for the audience. It’s all about the audience, remember, words are insignificant. It is how you use and deliver those words that makes the difference between good and great.”
It is important not to try to cram too much into five minutes. Don’t over-complicate ideas either, the presentation may sound robotic as you try to remember everything. A Toast Master said:
“If you are focused on ‘writing’ a speech, then go ahead and worry about the number of words. If you are truly focused on ‘giving’ a speech then you really shouldn’t write a full speech. If you are, you write it, then read it. Check the time. Then outline it. Then practise giving it with the outline 2-3 times. Then you break the outline down to index cards, but only as much as you need.
Usually a key word to help remember the introduction, all the points you are making, and then the conclusion is the simplest way to go. Try presenting a speech which you hold passion for, the time will pass much more smoothly. Only pause if it is calculated to dramatise your point or lead someone along in anticipation of a pay-off line at the end.”
The best approach might simply be to become so familiar with the subject matter that the presentation can become more like something you’re explaining to a colleague in conversation. Eulogy website remembrance-book.com gave this advice:
“Sort out what you want to say, get a beginning, middle and end. Practise it until you know it by heart. Keep practising it until you are passionate about what you’re saying. Then time yourself. Alter it by cutting things out or add things until it’s the right length. Keep practising. Throw your notes away (or keep the briefest of notes on a card). On the day, you will know your subject, you will know how long your talk will last, you will be passionate about what you’re saying, and it’ll go fine.”
With a little preparation and practice, that five minutes of hell will become a great opportunity to impress your audience.
29 November 2010
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