During Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address as president, one noteworthy viewer had heard enough and lodged his complaint on Twitter:
Turns out, giving this speech is harder than it looks. President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address on Tuesday night dragged on for a long time—and that’s a statistical fact. According to the American Presidency Project, Trump’s speech was just over 80 minutes long, the third-longest State of the Union address in history. The longest were former President Bill Clinton’s 1995 and 2000 speeches, which clocked in at around 84 minutes and 88 minutes, respectively.
That doesn’t entirely explain why Trump’s speech felt so long, though. His pace was slow, too. Trump’s address on Tuesday contained 5,830 words, for a rate of 72 words per minute. According to an analysis from Baruch College, “a normal rate of extemporaneous speaking is about 125 words per minute.” Andrew Dlugan, who runs the public speaking blog Six Minutes, notes that most public speakers go a little faster. Dlugan’s analysis of several TED Talk speakers showed the slowest was Al Gore, who spoke at 133 words per minute—or nearly twice as fast as Trump’s speech.
A State of the Union address naturally will be slower than a TED Talk, as the president is reading from a Teleprompter and pausing for effect (and applause). Still, my analysis of the American Presidency Project’s data dating back to Reagan’s first speech in 1981 shows that Trump’s speech was the slowest-ever State of the Union. The next-slowest was George H. W. Bush’s 1991 address, at 79 words per minute, followed by George W. Bush’s 2002 address, at 82 words per minute. Those were still slow, but at least they were short, each less than 50 minutes long.
Put another way, this means Trump takes much longer to say the same amount of words as past presidents. For example, George W. Bush’s State of the Union in 2008 was 5,760 words—only 70 words less than Trump, but Bush’s speech was 28 minutes faster. Obama’s final State of the Union—the one Trump called “boring, slow, lethargic”—was 214 words longer than Trump’s, but 22 minutes shorter.