Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Presentation word count

When we have to write a script for a presentation, it can be really difficult to know how may words we need to write to fill in the allowable time. 

I tend to use PowerPoint to write anything that I am going to deliver, regardless of whether I actually use the slide deck to present or not. I find that the structure of PowerPoint, with the 'flagging' or 'signposting' that the slides enable me to do are invaluable. I can bang out the key points on the slides, then write my script for each slide in the notes area.

This then allows for cleaner editing. If I realise that I have too much content, I find it easier, with everything chunked into slides, to chop out an entire section. It is then easy to bridge the gap that the pruning has made with a transition sentence at the end of the previous slide.

However, it can be really hard to know just how much we deliver each minute when we speak. I find that I deliver 150 words a minute when I am lecturing. I deliberately slow down a bit from my normal speaking pace, so that everything is clear for the audience. I use 150 words as my rough rule of thumb when prepping new material scripts. This can be calculated as:

150 words x required minutes = script length

This of course does not include activity time, which we need to estimate quite carefully. Some activities will take a LONG time for people to get their heads around, to a trial is always a great idea before going live. Additionally, I aim to underfill my total words by 10%, so I can use silence to encourage listening, to create emphasis, and to add impact for the denouement. So, roughly:

((150 words x required minutes)-activity minutes) x 90% = script length

We can check our script length by exporting the slide deck content to Word. The slides will export as images: the notes will come through as text. We then simply get a word count from the resulting Word document. 

While it is usually wise to try and end a little earlier than expected, so there is more room for questions, if we are preparing for a graded oral presentation, we want to try to be just a few seconds short of the allowable time, so as to pack in as much as we can for the marks!

The last thing we should do then is to practice to ensure that the length we expect is what happens in reality. Run through the script several times, practicing out loud, to ensure that what we have written delivers exactly as we expect. We can then adjust words, paraphrase, or move sections for better flow. 

If you don't know how many words per minute you deliver, record some video of you speaking, upload it to YouTube, then - once YouTube has done its background magic - copy out the transcript and count the words, and divide by the minutes. 

I hope this helps!


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