Unfolding plans 81 – filling a presentation

How many words do I need to fill a presentation?  I’ve never really thought about it before now.  Normally I would get up to do a presentation and just get on with it.  I know I speak too quickly though.  I have been told before.  It’s a nervous thing.  It’s as if I want to get through it a quickly as I can but I pretend to myself that I am talking with purpose, with drive and enthusiasm.  I need to slow down to engage better with my audience and get my points across.

So why am I asking the question?  I have a couple of presentations coming up, one for Dynamo 15 in the middle of June (have you got your ticket yet?) and another which I have been asked to do at the beginning of July.  For Dynamo I have about eight minutes to speak.  The second one will have slides and so that will add some time (I need to fill twenty minutes) but the first one will be just words.

A quick search of the internet tells me that the average person engaged in a friendly conversation speaks at between one hundred and ten and one hundred and fifty words per minute.  That is quite a spread.  The professional speaker however is a little quicker rising to one hundred and sixty words per minute.

Sims Wyether says that ‘When you speak too fast, you don’t leave any nice spaces of silence between phrases and sentences, thus making your listeners work too hard.’

Andrew Lightheart adds that ‘Speaking slower makes you seem more fluent, more knowledgeable, more senior, more interesting plus it allows you to feel in control whilst you’re speaking.’

I thought that I would time myself.  I downloaded a stopwatch onto my smartphone and read out loud a five hundred word piece.  It took me two and a half minutes which puts me at two hundred words per minute.  That is quick and I’d made the effort to speak more slowly than I normally would.  Clearly I have some work to do.

This means that for my Dynamo 15 talk I’m going to need sixteen hundred words at full pace but that I could drop this down to twelve hundred if I could pull back to a more comfortable pace.  I’m going to aim for the lower number and practice until I get the pace right.  Perhaps there are some useful tips out there to help me in my quest.

Denise Graveline says that there are five things that I could work on: Don’t speak as fast as I do in conversation; Work on my nerves; Think of speaking like keeping time to music; Plan pauses into my sentences and; Watch out for lists (they’re particularly easy to rush through).

It all sounds like good sound advice.  Not only will be presentations and speeches come across as more interesting and intelligible I won’t have to put so much effort into making up so many words.  I imagine though it will take more effort to say less than it would to say more.  I will let you know.

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