Uh… Um… You know

We’ve all been there. We’ve listened to interviews on the radio where experts are stammering over their facts. We’ve sat through presentations at work where a presenter is reading slides to us verbatim and filling what few moments of silence there are with empty words. We’ve been asked questions and instead of reciting what we know we respond with a string of guttural nonsense. Little syllables like er, ee, um, uh, and ah are filler sounds. They aren’t real words. They aren’t adding value to what we are saying, but we just can’t help ourselves and we use them- over and over.

At Toastmaster meetings, an individual known as the Ah Counter keeps a tally of all manner of these filler and crutch sounds. At the end of the meeting, without judgement, they read off a list of the accumulated sounds for each person. They also keep track of actual filler words such as so, you know, and like. Awareness helps. Some people are completely unaware of how many times they use these words. After I give a speech and the Ah Counter gives me my total, I jot the number down on my speech notes or my evaluation form so I can review it later.

While examining my log of junk noises, I have found a strong correlation between my preparation levels and my filler words. The more I rehearse a speech, the less likely I am to fumble through and and stammer searching for words. If I am giving a prepared speech, I need to write it out in long form and practice it repeatedly before I can deliver it smoothly. I cannot speak at length without preparation. My charisma, intelligence, and wit are just not enough to stamp out pesky words and sounds that I would rather avoid.

A Toastmaster at my club who has earned the accolade Advanced Communicator gave me some advice one day. He suggested that from time to time, I should simply- pause. Pausing would help me improve my speaking in a few ways. It would give me an opportunity to breathe. It would also give me a moment to recall the actual words I wanted to deliver. Lastly, he reminded me that an audience also needs time to process what they’ve heard so the pause benefits both the audience and me. When you are speaking, a momentary pause can feel like an eternity. I assure you, that it isn’t. If you start employing this tactic, I suspect that you will start to see the amount of stray syllables diminishing as well.

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