Monthly Archives: May 2021

How Fast Do “Fast” Debaters Speak? A Study

Competitive policy debaters speak very quickly; critics have complained about it for more than 100 years. But how quickly do the fastest debaters actually speak?

In the past, I’ve estimated that “fast” debaters speak at between 280 and 340 words per minute (WPM). This estimate was based on my experiences over many years working with high school debaters to improve their speaking, often including formal tracking of their WPM rates over time. It was also based on anecdotal reviews of debaters’ speech documents. When calculating WPMs, nearly all elimination round-caliber debaters seemed to speak somewhere in that 280-340 range.

While I was confident that my estimate was relatively accurate, I decided to attempt a more authoritative investigation into debaters’ speaking speeds. My goal was to answer two questions: (1) How quickly do “fast” debaters speak?, and (2) Have “fast” debaters slowed down for online debate?

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