We’ve all been there.
You’re sitting in the audience of a presentation, and the speaker’s “ums” and “uhhs” are distracting to the point that each filler word feels like it has a buzzer attached to it.
While it’s easy to judge from a seat in the crowd, when you yourself actually get up to speak in front of group of people, you soon may realize how difficult it is not to use these crutch words to fill the silence when you’re not talking.
Why We “Um”
Public speakers who use crutch words and phrases aren’t a minority. It’s a problem for a lot of people, mainly because they’re trying to think about what they want to say, and instead of just pausing and thinking quietly, they feel the need to make a noise, as silence can be deafening (especially when you’re on stage or in front of a large group of captive audience members).
Humans are accustomed to conversations between two or more people. One person talks and another responds. But when you’re speaking and you’re the only one talking, you feel the need to mimic the back-and-forth banter by interjecting with a random filler word.
Other reasons we “um”:
- We’re trying to simultaneously think and speak.
- We need help remembering something.
- We’re lacking self-assurance in what we’re saying.
- We have a broad, abstract topic to talk about, with a lot to consider.
Now that we know why we use filler words, how do we stop? Here are a few tips.
Spend Time Reading Out Loud
Reading aloud is an excellent way to break this bad habit. In preparation for a speaking engagement or presentation, spend a little bit of time every day reading a text out loud. This helps with the rhythm, since you’re removing the ums and uhs and acclimating your speech.
Listen to Audio Books
Along with reading out loud, listening to texts being read out loud can also be helpful, as it, too, gets you into the habit of removing crutch words. Another thing you could do is record your own voice reading out loud to get used to hearing the cadence in your own inflection.
Speak in Short Sentences
When people speak in long sentences, that’s when they sometimes run into trouble. Just think of getting your point across with each statement. Run-ons can make people nervous, sometimes even causing people to forget their original point, which in turn brings out “ums.”
Talking fast is another factor that can cause filler talk. Don’t let your mouth move faster than your brain. If you take your time when speaking, this allows you to think through what you want to say, which lessens the instances of filler.
Enjoy the Silence
Ultimately, “ums” and “likes” stem from the fear of silence, so instead of trying to fill that dead air, just pause for reflection and allow yourself to think about what you want to say. Only you know what you’re going to do next, so take your time. It may keep audience members on the edge of their seats.
The Bottom Line
Many a public speaker has been plagued by a case of the “ums.” However, there are many ways to combat this affliction. It just takes some practice and preparation, and these filler words can be eliminated.