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“I, um, I just wanted to say that, ah, …”
I just came from a presentation given by an expert in their field. Well, the presenter’s bio said they were an expert in the topic. But right from the beginning, I had my doubts. It had nothing to do with content of the presentation and EVERYTHING to do with delivery. You see, I counted 5 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s from the speaker in the first 3 minutes of their presentation. Not a good sign. I knew it was going to be a painful 90 minutes.
You might wonder why I started counting the ‘um’s and ‘ah’s. It comes naturally, from being a Toastmaster. One of the things we do at our Toastmasters meetings, at least at my club, is to count ‘um’s, ‘ah’s and other filler words spoken aloud … by EVERY person attending the meeting.
The Ah Counter, the person spending the entire meeting focusing on this task, reports the number of times – every – single – person – said those words during the meeting. At first it sounds like an awful thing to have done to you: Someone counts your ‘um’s and ‘ah’s and then tells the entire room how many you uttered. Embarrassing!
In fact, it’s a gift. You can no longer live in blissful ignorance of your bad habit. And that’s a good thing. Because once you are aware of your penchant to say ‘um’ and ‘ah’, you become instantly aware of it the next time one of those words comes out of your mouth.
So you can immediately begin to STOP saying them by developing strategies and tips to put in place each time you speak in public. It all starts with awareness. And then you work at it, every time you speak in front of others.
And don’t forget the pride that will result from this: The day the Ah Counter SKIPS your name because you didn’t utter a single ‘um’, ‘ah’, or any other filler word is a great day! That, my friends, is a real moment to celebrate!
You can be THE expert in your field, but your content and your professionalism won’t shine through to your audience if you utter 177 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s in your 87-minute presentation.
Yes, that was the final count during the presentation I watched today: 177 ‘um’s and ‘ah’s. I didn’t bother to count the other filler words. The 177 was bad enough. It was painful for the audience. It was all anyone talked about at the break. But did the speaker even realize they had this habit?
I engaged the speaker during the break, asking a question about the content of the presentation. After a few moments, the speaker asked for some feedback on their presentation. They brought up the topic of the ‘um’s themselves, which created an opening for me introduce ways to overcome them. All in all, it worked out well. The fact that the speaker was already aware of the bad habit to some degree made it easy for us to have the conversation.
Here are some strategies and tips to stop saying filler words that have worked for me and for my clients:
- Create an awareness that you say ‘um’, ‘ah’ and other filler words. Have a colleague be your own personal Ah Counter, record yourself, etc.
- Know your topic inside and out and know what you want to say inside and out. That way, the information comes out of your mouth with ease and confidence; no searching for what to say next.
- Keep your mouth closed. When you are thinking of what to say next, make an effort to keep your mouth closed. When we open our mouths when we are thinking, we tend to utter sounds like ‘um’, ‘ah’ or other filler words.
- Choreograph how you will move from idea to idea, slide to slide. That means knowing what comes next, and next, and next in your presentation. You don’t have to memorize a script, but you should know the flow of your presentation by heart. (After all, what would you do if you had no slides??)
- Work on your confidence speaking in front of a room. You might even consider joining Toastmasters.
Have an insight, strategy or tip for reducing the number of filler words we say? Please share in the comments below.
Wishing you every success in your public speaking!
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