Can You Really Speed Listen Podcasts? Science Explains

Speed listening is a faster way to get through your multimedia backlog.

Speed listening. Credit: Nickolai Kashirin

Speed listening is the latest secret trick for learning more and faster in our overloaded information age. Businessmen and women like yourself are listening to podcasts (and watching movies) at up to double speeds in an effort to save time and get through all those great business podcasts that are piling up on smartphones.

Some have even called the method the noble art of skimming for multimedia. But can you really get as much out of a podcast listening at double speed than at normal speed?

Scientists have actually studied — and answered — this question long before podcasts were a thing, sometimes calling the speed listening technique “compressed listening.” According to a time compression study by Raymond Pastore and Albert D. Ritzhaupt, the theory behind speed listening is pretty simple.

The average rate of speech is about 150 words per minute, while the rate for speed reading or silent reading can reach rates of 300 words per minute. This gap between the speech and reading rates leaves the possibility of comprehending audio up to another 150 words per minute, or listening at twice the speed. So how fast can you really comprehend information?

Rate of speed and what you can comprehend

To find out what rate of speed was possible for intelligibility and comprehension, Pastore and Ritzhaupt looked at what previous researchers had done.

Combining the results of several studies, it turns out your ability to understand speeded up material peaks at 275–300 words per minute. Above 300 words per minute, or above double speed, your recall and comprehension of speeded material seriously deteriorates until what you hear sounds like chipmunks on acid.

So what is the best rate of speed for comprehension?

Comprehension and speed depend on content

The researchers discovered what speed is best for listening depends on the content of the multimedia. The simpler the material the faster you can listen; the more complex the material the more you need to slow it down.

When listening to declarative information, such as knowing the capital of state, you can listen at rates up to 2.5 times that of normal speech.

However, when the information is more complex, involving problem solving or a higher level of learning, you can only listen comfortably at 1.5 times the normal rate of speech before your comprehension falls off.

Overall, the researchers found that most listeners preferred listening at 1.4 times the normal rate of speech, or about 210 words per minute.

Speed listening works for podcasts

According to research, the average rate of speech for books on tape is recommended at 150–160 words per minute. That means you can “comfortably” listen to most of your podcasts or multimedia at double the rate, as long as your podcast material isn’t too complex. Though if you listen to a humor podcast, the timing of the jokes will be off.

Ha!

However, there’s no need to worry. If you need to understand more complex information or enjoy a joke, you can always slow it down.


Kyle Crocco is a Marketing and Content Associate for BigSpeak Speakers Bureau and a Content Marketer for Airtime Watertime®.