5-Minute Speech Word Count + Crucial Writing & Speaking Tips
If you’re faced with the frightening notion of giving a 5-minute speech, whether for business or “pleasure,” you’ll need to know roughly how many words to write. Nobody enjoys listening to someone drone on for too long, or witnessing a speech that is shorter than Danny Devito’s trousers. The timing of your speech needs to be just right, and perfectly suited to the occasion.
In this article, we explore the 5-minute speech word count, what affects it, and provide some writing and speaking tips for delivering an excellent, memorable speech. We also outline the word counts for other timed speeches, depending on your average talking speed. Let’s get to it.
What is the 5-minute speech word count?
The 5-minute speech word count is roughly 750 words. This is based on the average talking speed of 150 words per minute (WPM).
Of course, the timing of your speech will vary depending on how quickly you talk, as well as the words that you use. Monosyllabic words are shorter than multisyllabic words, so if your speech is filled with long-winded academic language, or you’re trying to show people how clever you are by using engorged, flowery words (like I just did here), you’ll probably need far fewer for your 5 minutes. We strongly recommend against this kind of thing anyway—people usually prefer listening to speeches with simple, easy-to-understand language (more on this below). As for your natural talking speed, this can also drastically affect how many words you need to use for your 5-minute speech, so once you’ve finished writing it, the best course of action is to read your speech through and time yourself. It’s the only real way of knowing whether you’re going to hit the 5-minute mark.
Nerves play a part in speed too, and while it’s nigh-on-impossible to vanquish your nerves entirely, try to keep your natural speaking pace so that you stay close to 5 minutes. Even if you come in a little shorter, it’s unlikely to be a problem unless you happen to have a deranged supervisor with a stopwatch. Practising the speech will also help to combat your nerves—you’ll be much more familiar with the text, and will have practised any difficult or awkward words that are easy to trip over.
Writing tips for your 5-minute speech
Good writing is the foundation of every first-rate 5-minute speech. If it’s badly written, it will probably sound bad when it’s spoken. But don’t panic—there are some key writing principles you can follow that will help you to pen a great speech:
- Be conversational—unless you’re a glutton for punishment, you’d probably prefer to be spoken to than lectured to. A speech that is conversational tends to be more engaging, interesting, and goes down much more easily. Try to be as friendly and conversational as you can, and write how you would naturally talk.
- Use short words—as we touched on above, short words are not only easier for people to understand, they will make your speech easier to say, and will feel less like a lecture and more like an informal chat. It’s obviously fine if you need to use long technical words, but try to keep them at a minimum, and briefly explain them if necessary (this depends on your audience, which brings us to our next tip).
- Remove unnecessary words—you can almost always remove unnecessary words from your speech to make it sharper. Words like “that,” “just,” and “completely” are just a few examples, but there are many many more.
- Use the active voice—this is a style of writing where the subject of the sentence is doing something, rather than having something done to them. For example: “the team hit their goals” uses the active voice and is more vivid than its passive variation: “the team’s goals were hit.” If you use the active voice where possible, your writing will sound more direct and confident.
- Anticipate your audience’s wants and needs—try to align the purpose of your speech with what the audience wants or needs to know. If you hit the nail on the head, they’ll come away with information that is genuinely useful to them, and will naturally be more interested in what you have to say.
- Tell stories—as humans, most of us enjoy listening to stories more than anything else. They tap into our primal need for meaning, and help us make sense of the world in ways that we are familiar with. If it works, try to include a narrative throughout your speech that has a beginning, middle, and end. This can be challenging, but it could make your speech captivating. If you’re interested, check out our article on digital storytelling for more info on this topic.
- Give examples—dry theoretical facts are hard to digest, but they can be made more interesting and vivid with examples, and will help people to remember them.
- Use comedy—if it’s appropriate, try to sprinkle some humour into your speech, as it will instantly become much more engaging. Just try to avoid anything sexist or racist. And the Holocaust. Don’t joke about the Holocaust.
- Summarise your main points—if appropriate, wrap up your speech with a short summary of points. This helps people to remember the material, and is especially useful for business presentations.
If you really struggle with writing and have a crucial speech to make, you can always consider hiring a professional ghostwriter. Politicians and other famous people do this all the time.
Speaking tips for your 5-minute speech
Now that you’ve written your beautiful 5-minute speech, and your word count is spot on, you can start preparing for its delivery. Here are a few key speaking and preparation tips that will help.
- Accept your nervousness—unless you’re in the lucky 10% who don’t mind public speaking, you’re going to be nervous. Probably very nervous. And there’s nothing to do but accept them, as uncomfortable as they are. Fighting just makes them worse, so try to reluctantly acknowledge them and remember that you are going to be ok.
- Take some deep belly breaths—breathing deeply through your belly (called diaphragmatic breathing) reduces the stress hormone cortisol in your body, and will help you calm you down. It takes conscious effort too, so can be a welcome distraction until you take the stage.
- Practise—print your speech, stand in front of a mirror, and practise the hell out of it. The more you practise, the more familiar you will become with the words, the cadence of the sentences, and the right speed. When it’s time to deliver the speech, you’ll be a pro.
- Take your time—nervousness causes people to talk faster, which can corrode the quality of a speech. Try your best to talk at your natural speed, with plenty of regular pauses (this is especially important when you shift from one point to another).
- Look up regularly—the eyes are the window to the soul, and if yours are glued to your speech for the full 5-minutes, it risks becoming soulless. Try to look up as frequently as you can, even if it’s every 30 seconds.
- Interact with the audience—if appropriate, interact with your audience by asking questions, using props, or any other tool that will get people talking. This can make your presentation more engaging, and may also reduce your nerves because the spotlight will be temporarily away from you.
Word counts for other speech times
If you’re looking for word counts for other common speech times, you’ll find them below. As with the 5-minute speech word count, this is a rough guide because the times vary depending on the length and syllables of words in your speech.
|Speech time||Fast talker (175 wpm)||Average speed talker (150 wpm)||Slow talker (125 wpm)|
|1-minute||175 words||150 words||125 words|
|2-minute||350 words||300 words||250 words|
|3-minute||525 words||450 words||375 words|
|4-minute||700 words||600 words||500 words|
|5-minute||875 words||750 words||625 words|
|10-minute||1750 words||1500 words||1250 words|
|15-minute||2625 words||2250 words||1875 words|
|20-minute||3500 words||3000 words||2500 words|
5-minute speech word count—summary
The 5-minute speech word count is about 750 words, but this varies depending on how quickly you talk, and the words used in the speech. So practising and timing yourself is the best way to get close to the 5-minutes. Good luck—we hope you smash it!