How Much Should I Write to Talk for Half an Hour?
August 14, 2011 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Hello academic types, teachers of all kinds, and folks that just generally give a lot of speeches and talks! I'm giving my first presentation in a long time, and I can't remember the old ratio I used for pages or words:minutes of talk time.

For example, how many words or double-spaced pages should I shoot for if my talk is supposed to be half an hour, read at a pace appropriate for an oral address (steady, with appropriate intonations and pauses and without straight-up monotone reading)?

Thanks very much!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry - that's the wrong number (mods feel free to delete).

I'd go with previously.
posted by quodlibet at 2:19 PM on August 14, 2011

Quodlibet's figure is fine if you're an auctioneer or the guy who reads the rules for the Oscar broadcast! When I am giving an academic talk, I usually figure I can deliver 130 words per minute. If I'm speaking in English to a foreign audience, I cut that by about 10%; the same if I'm speaking on a complex subject to an audience of novices. Then I usually cut another 5% or so to cover off-the-cuff additions.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:22 PM on August 14, 2011

brianogilvie's numbers sound right to me.

I always figure about 2 minutes per 12pt, double-spaced page--which is somewhere in the region of 250-300 words.

For 30 minutes, I would aim for no more than 15 pages double-spaced. Probably more like 13.
posted by col_pogo at 2:34 PM on August 14, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, sorry I missed that "previously"- I looked and everything. Happy to hear any more thoughts and suggestions!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:43 PM on August 14, 2011

The rule of thumb is two minutes per page—around 3000 words for 20 minutes, so 4500 for a half hour. Take that as a starting point, and then practice delivering your talk. Adjust as needed.
posted by synecdoche at 2:46 PM on August 14, 2011

Wolfram Alpha says 30 minutes of talking is roughly equivalent to nine single-space pages or 18 double-spaced ones (405 lines, either way).
posted by Rhaomi at 2:46 PM on August 14, 2011

For me the answer was between 125 and 160 words in a minute. Why such a big range? Well, the material itself, dramatic pauses, personal styling, paying attention to the audience reactions. If there is anything about your enunciation that makes you difficult for folks to follow, you might want to place yourself in the slower end of the range.

Remember that whatever your time is when practicing this speech before the event, you are likely to speed up a smidge (or a ton, depending), unless you truly practice a lot. You can accommodate this tendency by having bonus slides, or by, well, practicing. A lot.

If there is any chance that you'll need to refer to notes, since it's been so long for you out of public speaking, make them brief, in order, and large font. If you'll be reading your speech off the page, that will speed you up to faster than if you were going from memory, you can make reading easier on yourself by printing the pages in larger font. 12 point is hard to read when it's atop a lecturn and you are standing over it. This will also give you more opportunities to turn pages, which makes for good pausing because there's just something about speaking in front of an audience that makes us rush through things, without realizing that we're doing that. Nothing like getting through your 30 minute talk in 20 minutes. Though sometimes this is awesome if you have folks that want to ask questions. It's not awesome when they have questions because your speed made it impossible to follow.

former high school state champion public speaker. We used to get docked points if our speeches were not within strict parameters, so this was an issue. 30 seconds too short was just as bad as 30 seconds too long.
posted by bilabial at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2011

I never write out full scripts, but rather put bulletpoints with subheads on both sides of a standard index card - this method yields a talking time of ~10 min per index card.

(TIP: use two different colors of ink for your bulletpoints and subheads so you can easily find your place if you must refer to your notes)
posted by EatTheWeek at 6:30 PM on August 14, 2011

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