Man reading magazine

by Photo by: Richard Faulks

Steve Woodmore could recite this caption in just over a second.

When Steve Woodmore was 7 years old, a teacher chose him to recite an 8-minute speech. It took only 2. “That’s when I realized I had a gift,” he says.

The 42-year-old electronics salesman from London is the world’s fastest talker, owning the title for the past 12 years. On a good day, he can spout off 637 words per minute-more than 10 a second. Having impressed my family and friends over the years with some quick turns of the tongue (it’s inherited from Mom, Dad says), I challenged Woodmore to a talk-off.

The subject of our recitation would be the 169-word main text of a story. The rules were simple: Unlike the 12 hours of practice Woodmore gets from the Guinness Book of World Records, he wouldn’t see the story beforehand. I could practice it as often as I wanted. Also, Woodmore would get one chance to read it aloud–and would be docked for any words that he missed or pronounced incorrectly. But I could essentially make things up.

The results: He read it in 22 seconds, a not-too-shabby rate of 461 words a minute. With a little practice, he claims, he could trim his time to 14 seconds or so. On my 11th try, skipping merrily over half the text, I did it in 26 seconds (give or take).

So I couldn’t give Woodmore a run for his money, but I know one person who can. Mom, are you reading this?

How Fast Talking Works

The faster Steve Woodmore talks, the less he remembers. Why? Speaking and comprehension are linked, explains University of Kentucky professor Jane Joseph. “In most people, decoding letters into sounds and comprehension work in concert, with the latter slowing us down,” she says. “But with fast talkers, the brain is able to separate these two aspects.”