Before drafting a speech, you should first ask the organizer about crucial information such as the audience, their expectations, the occasion, and many others. Among all these, it is vital that you ask how many minutes or hours are allotted for your speech. You don't want to overstay your welcome and mess with your audience's schedule.

If your speech doesn't have a time limit, do not assume that you can go on talking for hours, irrespective of your audience's time. Limit your talk to 18 to 20 minutes, as going over this time span is already too long for a speech. The attention and focus of your listeners after 20 minutes are already depleted.

Of course, if you are a great and humorous speaker, it's possible that you still have your audience's full attention even if you exceed the suggested time. But for rookies or newbies, it is best to follow this optimal time. I shared more information about speech length in this article, so get ready for note-taking!

How long is too long for a speech?

An African American businesswoman giving a speech at work

Exceeding 18 to 20 minutes for a speech is already too long. After the suggested time mark, people already start losing focus. You would have to try really hard in order to hold their attention, and the message of your speech won't be absorbed by the audience that much.

Let's recall what Winston Churchill said about the length of a good speech:

"A good speech should be like a woman's skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest."

To give you a clear example, you'll see a drop in views of a TEDx talk when it reaches the 10 to 12-minute mark. For a speech uploaded on Facebook, most people only watch it in the first three minutes. 

This further reinforces the fact that anything longer than 18 to 20 minutes is already too long for a speech.

What is the optimum length of a speech? 

The optimum length of a speech is between 18 to 20 minutes since this is the average attention span of the audience. Although there are some people who can hold their attention longer, the tendency to lose focus is imminent as longer time passes.

What's more, there are others that can't even focus for more than 10 minutes. Once they are already distracted, there's a possibility that the whole room will get distracted as well.

Another thing to note is that when you exceed 18 to 20 minutes, you also lose your focus. It is no feat talking for several minutes straight— it can be tiring for the mind, to say the least. 

You may add more unnecessary information about your speech and digress even farther from the topic, which could be problematic. This may be viewed as a lack of preparation for your topic even though the first 18 minutes are good.

You can also make speaking mistakes that you may need to recover from, which further extends your time.

What is the maximum time for a short speech?

Businessman with Flip Chart at Office Presentation

The maximum time for a short speech is 10 minutes, and the minimum is one minute. For the upper limit of 10 minutes, you should only focus on one central message or idea and share stories or anecdotes that can support it.

It is not suggested to share too many facts in ten minutes because your audience will only be confused. Instead, think of one core idea that you want to share and do everything—share stories, statistics, etc.— to explain it well. 

Since you can only offer bite-sized ideas in 10 minutes, make sure that you prepare well. Often, short speeches need discipline and precise focus from the speaker to utilize the short time wisely.

What do you do when your speech is too long?

If you realize that the speech you have written is really long, but it is hard for you to choose which parts to remove, here are a few tips that might be useful to you:

  • Focus on your end goal. Your speech may be too long because you have so many ideas you want to share. Instead of sharing so many things, focus on one end goal. Ask yourself, what's the one thing you want your listeners to get by the end of your speech. Your answer to this should be the core idea of your speech; remove everything else.

  • Remove excessive examples. If there are some stories or examples you have included that won't really deepen one's understanding of your main point, cut them out. Sharing too much will only encourage hostile audiences to not pay attention to you. 

  • Break your speech into parts. If you were given a longer time to deliver your speech (say 40 minutes), but you still exceeded the time limit during your dry run, chunk your speech into sections. Make an outline and list your main point 1, main point 2, etc. You'll see that there are some parts worth removing.

  • Practice your speech. The only way to figure out if your speech is running long is to read it the way you'll deliver it in front of your audience. Some parts of your speech sound right on paper, but some sound awkward when spoken. Delete those parts, and you'll see a big difference in the length of your speech.

  • Ask someone to listen. Most of the time, it can be hard to distinguish which parts of your written speech should go or be retained, especially when you spend a lot of time writing it. This is where phoning a friend comes in handy. A fresh set of ears and feedback can point you in the right direction when it comes to shortening your speech. 

How to avoid a very long speech?

Avoiding a very long speech is pretty straightforward. But if you are struggling and do not know where to start, here are a few tips to get you started!

  • Impose a time limit on yourself. If the organizer did not tell you any time limit, set one for yourself. As mentioned, 18 to 20 minutes is the optimum time for a speech, so stick to that. No one will complain that your speech is too short because that's the only span of time. They would even like you better because you keep them wanting more.

  • Only give your greatest performance. Assess yourself if you can really give a long speech. If it is required and you know you can't speak for 40 minutes or one hour, talk to the organizer. Decline the extra minutes/hours and tell them that you want to give your best performance— and that would only take 20 minutes. Anything more can just ruin the message.

  • Refine your speech. If you have already written your speech and figured it is too long, refine it. Practice reading it in shorter and shorter times and see what you can remove. Make it like a TEDx talk that is short, funny, and informative.

  • Don't wing it. The more you don't prepare, the longer your speech will be. Make sure you do a dry run of your speech before the actual delivery. It takes much effort to make a short speech, but it is worth it.

  • Check your reading rate. You can really be technical about it and check your reading rate before writing your speech. Read something and note how many words you were able to say in one minute. Multiply it to the number of minutes or hours dedicated to your speech. 

How long should a speech be at a wedding?

The Groom giving a speech at a Wedding

A great wedding speech should only be three to five minutes. But if you are really funny, and you can hold the attention of the guests for longer, you can deliver a speech of 10 minutes max.

No one would really complain that the speech of the best man or the parents of the newlyweds is too short. Also, making the speech longer means adding more stories to share. You don't want to reveal more embarrassing stories and ruin the night for the couple.

How long should a speech be for school?

The length of a speech in school would really depend on the occasion. If you are a commencement speaker, limit it to 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, for English class speeches, 18 to 20 minutes would do, unless your teacher wants it longer. Also, clarify with your teacher whether it is an extemporaneous speech since this type of speech can be pretty long and needs more serious effort in connecting to the audience.

Frequently asked questions

How many words is a 1 hour speech?

Assuming that your speaking rate is 150 words per minute, a one-hour speech would be 9,000 words. To accurately count how many words you need to write for a one-hour speech, manually time yourself and count your words per minute. Multiply it by 60, and you get how long your speech should be. 

Note, though, that when delivering your speech, it should be slower than your normal speaking voice so your audience can understand you better.

How long is a 3 minute speech?

A three-minute speech is 420 words long, assuming that your speaking rate is 140 words per minute. 140 words per minute are ideal since it is slightly slower than your speaking voice, especially if you are a native speaker of the language.

Is a 20-minute speech too long?

No. A 20 minute speech is not too long. In fact, it is the optimum length of a speech because it is also the maximum attention span of most people. Anything you say after 20 minutes is already too long unless the organizer really told you that your speech is 30 minutes to one hour long.

Key takeaways

Speeches that are past 20 minutes long guarantee a snooze fest. If you don't want to be that boring speaker everyone hates, make your speech concise and let your audience crave for more! 

That doesn't mean, though, that you won't explain your main points deeper. Write your material using an outline so even though it's short, it is packed with everything the audience needs to hear. 

For more resources to develop your speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement, please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools'.


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Posted in  Public Speaking Topics   on  May 27, 2022 by  Dan W ,   How Long Is Too Long For A Speech? [The Ultimate Truth]

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