Thursday, August 27, 2015

Use a script or transcript to manage your speaking speed

Whether you routinely use a script or just speak off the cuff, you can use text as a tool to manage your speaking speed and increase your understanding of it. It's a smart project for anyone who hopes to speak regularly in public, a key type of data about yourself as a speaker that you should be monitoring. Here's how to do it:
  • Write the script to a standard speed: The speechwriters' rule of thumb is about 120 words per minute. That means 600 words for every 5 minutes of speaking. You may speak faster or slower, but if you write your script with this in mind, you'll know whether you are faster or slower than the standard. Use the word-count function in your word-processing program to find out the number of words.
  • Record a reading: This might be a recording you make for practice, or the actual recording of the talk as delivered. Either way, that audio or video won't lie: You'll now have the actual reading time of your talk in hand.
  • No script? No problem: If you had no script, but did get a recording of your talk, you can have that transcribed to get the written version of what you said. (Here's an easy way to generate a transcript with YouTube.) Then run it through a word-counter to get the total of your actual spoken words. Divide the total by the number of minutes, and you'll know how many words per minute you speak on average.
Next comes some analysis:
  • What's your actual speed? Keep a log of this, whether it's based on practice readings or real delivery. It's good to know your actual average speaking speed for speeches. Keep in mind that while we aim for 120 words/minute for speeches, you may speak closer to 400 or 500 words per minute in conversation. We do need you to slow down for speeches.
  • If your script was written to 120 words/minute, did you come close to that mark in actual speaking? I wouldn't worry if you are 15 seconds faster or slower, but if your recording differs significantly more than that, you are speaking either too fast or too slow.
  • Are you faster without a script? It's great to compare your speed reading from a text or winging it. You may be surprised by the results.
  • Do your off-the-cuff additions add to the time significantly? Here's where it helps to have a transcript of your actual delivery, even if you used a text. Your asides, jokes, and off-the-cuff additions may be adding minutes to your total, and this is the best way to find out.
  • Were you nervous? Many speakers report speeding up consciously due to nerves or the simple desire to "get it over with." If that was the case in the speech you're reviewing, it can have a real impact on your speed. Ditto those moments when you saw the clock and realized your time was running out.
The easiest way to slow yourself down is to follow the rules of punctuation. Any sentence with a hard stop (period, exclamation point, colon, question mark) should have 2 silent beats after it, and before saying the next sentence. Watch out for list sentences, with items separated by commas, and make sure there is a distinct silent beat between items in the list. Those two tactics will do more to slow you down appropriately than anything else. Mark up that script or transcript to indicate where to pause and how many beats, then read and record it again to find out whether you were successful in slowing down.

This takes practice, but in the end, ensures that your audience will actually hear what you are saying--and isn't that the point?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tory)

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