Although you might have a good idea of your content’s target length, the destination isn’t the only important aspect — It also matters how you get there. Choosing the perfect number of voiceover words per minute will determine whether your listeners follow.
Voiceover words per minute, or wpm, rates are usually around 75 wpm. This is just enough to pack in a lot of information without running the risk that your content will become hard to follow. Although you can usually exceed or undershoot this standard, it’s best not to deviate too much.
The 75 wpm figure is the golden number of voiceovers, but it’s worth investigating why. The topic is particularly worthy of exploration, considering that 75 WPM is far slower than typical conversational rates. Here are a few ideas that might help you get a firmer handle on what goes into a great voiceover and how to choose the ideal for your next project.
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This post was updated in April 2021
Voiceover Words Per Minute and Information Rate
How fast does your favorite voice actor talk? While most people might say “fast” or “slow” and call it settled, scientists are a bit more precise. More rigorous metrics for quantifying communication include:
- Information Density: The amount of data packed into a given snippet of speech or chunk of text. Linguists measure information density in bits, or pieces of information, per syllable.
- Speech rate: How quickly someone speaks. Marketers who want to hit a specific number of voiceover words per minute are talking about speech rates. It can also be measured in syllables per minute or second.
- Information Rate: The speed at which different forms of communication, such as a voiceover, dispense information. This figure can be independent of speech rates. For instance, imagine that two speakers said the same number of words per minute. A high-information-density speaker might use highly descriptive language while the other used more simple words to express the same concept. Information rates are measured in bits per minute.
A Real-world Example
An interesting study from the University Lumière Lyon II exemplified these ideas and showed some surprising relationships. Researchers looked at different languages to see if some were more efficient. In other words, it sought to clarify whether languages with higher information densities communicated the same ideas more rapidly.
The study backed up the idea that in certain languages, speakers pronounce their syllables faster. This wasn’t anything new — for instance, Spanish is widely perceived as having a higher speech rate than more laid-back languages, such as Mandarin and German.
What was more interesting was that the information densities of different languages showed negative correlations to their vocal speeds. Even though some languages showed higher typical speech rates, their grammar, structure, and other elements compensated by communicating fewer ideas over comparable time frames — a lower information density.
Amazingly, the data revealed that most speakers had similar information rates — regardless of their origins. After accounting for various factors, the scientists found that information rates for all languages hovered at around 39 bits per second.
The Crucial Marketing Takeaway
This all might seem like a lot of work just to say that speakers communicate information at the same average rate. As a savvy marketer, however, you might have recognized a stunning hidden implication — that it doesn’t take much data to overload a listener.
When considering voiceover words per minute, you must respect your listeners’ ability to absorb your message. Although you probably won’t calculate information densities or information rates when planning campaigns, they should be your primary concerns as you craft scripts.
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Voiceover Words Per Minute and the Rule of 75
There are caveats to most rules, and the 75 wpm guideline is no different. Before you find yourself tripped up or tongue-tied, take a look at some of these common questions:
Do I Have to Maintain a Constant Speed?
No. Luckily for those who crave freeform creativity, 75 wpm is just an average. Not all phrases deserve the same amount of time. For instance, a voice actor might say a familiar expression that’s easy to recognize at a higher speed — since people have heard it before, they’ll still understand it. When explaining a product’s new tech-heavy features, however, the actor would be better off taking their time to hit key points with maximum clarity.
Normal, organic speech rarely happens at a uniform rate. When you try to stay at one speed, you can easily end up sounding boring and monotone. Professional readthroughs make such distinctions clearer by letting you put yourself in the audience’s shoes. They also help you ensure that your chosen speech rate doesn’t interfere with your campaign’s artistic direction.
Should I Use a Voiceover Words Per Minute Conversion Tool?
The web is full of great tools designed to let you know how long it should take to read a script. The problem is that these apps rarely take the big picture into account.
Let’s look at two sentences that communicate the same idea in different ways — go ahead and try each one aloud:
“I took a rideshare to the hat store to buy a used Panama hat.” This sentence isn’t too exciting, but it’s easy to understand.
“I rode a conveyance to the millinery boutique to purchase an upcycled Panama hat.” Ugh! This one is pretty rough on the eyes and ears.
These two sentences have the same number of words. They also tell identical tales of thrilling fashion adventure. The second, however, is full of complex, syllable-packed, ten-dollar expressions. If a voice actor were to read these phrases at the same speeds, the latter would likely sound rushed, but a voiceover word per minute conversion tool might indicate that both should take the same amount of time.
Even when apps understand the importance of counting syllables — and not just words — they don’t always consider the meaning. Consider the previous example’s silly sentences. An app might not distinguish between accessible phrases like “hat store” and the sheer torture of “millinery boutique.” While conversion tools can help you get started and slim things down, doing live readings is the most effective means of ironing out kinks.
How Can I Hit the Ideal Voiceover Words Per Minute If My Script Is Too Long?
Overly long scripts tend to suffer from one of a few problems:
- Poor information distribution: When a writer comes up with something that seems unbalanced, they may try to compensate by padding the heaviest sections with lighter filler. This can result in bloat or weak endings. The solution is usually to rearrange the ideas so that they flow more logically.
- Too much information: It may be tempting to try to include everything you can in a single voiceover. After all, you only have people’s attention for so long. This is a big mistake, so plan ahead by choosing one or two main ideas you’d like to communicate and focusing on those.
- Failure to account for non-speech elements: Great voiceovers are more than words alone. Music, sound effects, and pauses are equally important, but they take time. Make sure all of your branding assets, such as tag lines and product names, and incidentals mesh smoothly with the speech so that you know what you can eliminate.
- Unfamiliarity with the target voice: This commonly crops up during the production of translated scripts or those addressed to demographic niches that might not be equally information-literate. For instance, your scripts would feel word-heavy if you used language that people didn’t understand — you’d need extra explanatory dialogue. Try broadening your planning perspective by consulting with an experienced voice actor regarding alternate ways to say what you mean.
If worst comes to worst, you can try to crank up your voiceover’s words per minute – but not too much. At most, we advise a 90 wpm rate for English-language scripts. Remember, however, that context, meaning, and ease of understanding should be your ultimate guides.
Should I Target Different Voiceover Words Per Minute Rates for Different Media?
Earn yourself a bit more leeway by taking advantage of the complementary aspects of your production. For instance, if you were doing a radio ad, you might require more dialogue than you would for TV since the viewers could also glean context from the visuals.
Sometimes, however, this can be a little counterintuitive. For instance, imagine that you were a movie director who loved filling scenes with vibrant colors and action-packed motion. Someone in the audience might have a hard time paying attention to the voiceovers thanks to your fantastic display of cinematography. In such a case, you’d want the narrator or actor to speak slower than usual — not faster.
Similar situations can happen online, where viewers and listeners exist in a perpetually distracted, overload-prone state. Although you can usually create accessible content by reducing the speech rate to about 60 wpm, it’s essential to keep it interesting.
How Can I Choose the Right Voiceover Speech Rate for My Voice Actors?
Most speakers sound best when they articulate slowly and clearly. For instance, some super-deep voice actors speak in tones that might be harder for listeners to pick out from background noise. Speakers with extremely lofty pitches tend to sound more natural when they proceed at high-energy rates.
Fortunately, most professionals can help by adjusting their creative output to suit your desired brand voice and mood. Don’t be afraid to ask yours to give you some different options.
Making the Most of Your Chosen Voiceover Words Per Minute
Voiceover speaking rates help decide how easy it is for people to get invested in your branding. A speaker that maintains an average of about 75 wpm can help you appeal to the broadest audience. Before setting your heart on a particular rate, however, be sure to do a readthrough. Always run the results through multiple feedback stages — especially if you’re creating particularly information-dense content.
If you’re looking for voice pros who know their stuff, submit a project at Bunny Studio today! We’ll make sure every base is covered, and you’re 100% satisfied.