Secrets of how to cut the 'um' from your speech

There is unfortunately a common occurrence that to me is like nails being dragged down a blackboard.

It's the 'um' and 'er' that some people put into gaps in their speech.

These are sounds added in between words and sentences to fill the silence and tell listeners that the speaker is still speaking. In a normal two way conversation, the people having the conversation take turns to speak. Like a tennis match these turns go back and forth. The listener knows when to speak next, when the 'ball is in their court', by waiting for the speaker to be silent. So if the speaker does not want to give up their turn, they add in some form of filler noise. An 'um' or 'err'.

Of course, when someone is presenting there is no need for the filler noises as there is an expectation from everyone that the speaker is not having a back and forth conversation. Yet I've seen CEO's of multi-national companies presenting to a camera and have two or three of these noises in every sentence. It was excruciating for me to watch.

The interesting thing about these filler noises is that they are not needed. Not only not needed when speaking to an audience, but not even needed when speaking one on one. You can keep silent within a conversation, and still hold the speaker position. The most obvious, overt example of this is when the speaker holds up their hand like a stop sign.

You can hold the attention of all listeners with entirely non-verbal methods. Take a look a Tony Blair and Bill Clinton during interviews for examples of this. Watch their behaviour, not what they are saying. Listen to the timing and rhythm and become aware of the silence that they deliberately allow into the speeches.

There are many things that you can do to first stop the habit of 'um' and second learning how to keep attention. To start, consciously slow down your rate of speech a little allowing you to listen to your own words and enable you to self edit what you say. And secondly, play with how much you can slow down your speaking and extend the silence without others commenting...


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