ums and ahs and you knows – oh my!


Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of listening to a speaker who has a verbal “distractor”. You know, the ones who “um” every fifth word, , or say, “so” every time they’re changing subjects. After a while you stop listening to the substance of their presentation and begin counting the number of times they “um” or “so” . If they have the doubled misfortune of having an annoying voice or other turn-off you’re just counting the minutes until their presentation is over. Let’s make a vow right here and now that YOU will never be one of those speakers. Here’s how.


First of all, understand that “um”s and “uh”s and other non-words come from a little brain hiccup, nerves, and a terror of unfilled space. Here’s the good news. Not only does almost every speaker (with the possible exception of Robin Williams, whose brain is in perpetual overdrive) experience this; empty space is good. Really good. In fact, pauses are as, if not more, powerful than words. They signify to the audience that you’ve said something so important you want them to take a minute to let it sink in. You have, and they should. It may feel very unnatural at first, but keep at it. (Remember, it takes 21 days to make something a habit, or eliminate one.) You’ve probably been “um”ing or “ah”ing for years; it takes a while to unlearn. More important, although the silence of a pause feels awkward to you, to your audience it’s a gift.  Even better, a pause will allow YOU to gather your thoughts and remind yourself where you’re going next.  Everybody wins.

Remember, silence is golden. And powerful. And even more important, not distracting. Don’t try to fill empty spaces with non-words. Your audience will thank you for it.

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