Looking to upgrade your personal skills? Increasing your reading speed is perhaps the easiest improvement you can make.

However, few of us are aware of the need to increase our reading speed. In almost every other area of life, we have made improvements and developed skills to match our output, except for one — our reading speed.

In a 1953 Harvard Business Review article on speed reading, it was reported that the average American read at about 250 words per minute.

Current literature on reading speed estimates that the average reading speed globally is about 200 to 250 words per minute, which means reading speed has not increased in all these years.

A 2003 study by the University of California concluded that global information doubles every three years. No wonder we are suffering from an information overload.

Speed reading training focuses on two broad aspects — the technical and the psychological. Technical aspects include the way the eye is trained to pick up words, the pace of eye movement and the use of reading aids.

Psychological aspects include beliefs about reading and the mental preparation before and during reading.

Word recognition

Technically, we underestimate the power of word recognition. For example, you would probably be able to read a sentence such as “I cuold not beilvee taht I cuold raed tihs”.

This is because our brains are wired to recognise whole words and not every letter of the word. For this, you must be familiar enough with the language, which is a fundamental requirement for speed reading.

Certain conditions apply, though. Speed reading is not recommended for primary school children and those who are learning a new language.

Once we understand that it is the “brain” that is doing the reading and not the eyes, we can make use of the plasticity of the brain to start to train ourselves to read faster. Many speed reading courses are conducted over 15 to 25 hours. Some people can achieve significant results even within a six-hour training session.

Common misconception

The psychological aspects of reading include strongly held beliefs such as “If I read faster, I will understand less”. Studies have proved that speed can be increased without compromising comprehension.

The Harvard Business Review reported that at Johnson & Johnson, a group of executives who underwent speed reading training increased their speed from an average of 215 words a minute to 425 words a minute without a loss of comprehension.

These results are similar to the results of many groups who have taken speed reading training in Singapore.

The University of Houston Reading Clinic conducted a reading programme at the Texas plant of the Monsanto Chemical Company that improved efficiency. This translated into annual savings evaluated at over US$40,000 (S$50,000).

The increase in productivity was so evident that many well-known companies have been training their executives to read faster.

An additional bonus for speed reading is its effect of lifting a person’s self-esteem, creativity and energy level.

The 2006 published research findings by Emily Pronin of Princeton University and Daniel Wegner of Harvard University concluded that increased speed of thought had a positive effect on the individual’s mood.

Of all the personal skills that an executive needs to bring to his work, the one that is most widely neglected and yet most readily and dramatically improved is speed reading.

If you took more than two minutes to read this article, you need to increase your reading speed.