Phrase That Doesn’t Pay

What are two of most common phrases uttered by most people?  Before you answer this question, stop and think for a moment.  As you formulate your answer to this, or almost any question, if speaking out loud, chances are you will pause for a millisecond before opening your mouth, and then, what’s the first sound most people make? Um, let me give you a little hint.  Uh, maybe it’s not something you think of or do consciously, but it comes out of more people’s mouths than they realize.
During regular conversation we frequently use “Um” or “Uh” when we’re formulating what we want to say.  We also utter these sounds when we are stunned or confused by a question, don’t really know what to say or how to respond, and at myriad other times.  According to linguist, Mark Liberman, “um” is uttered on average at least once every sixty words we speak.  That’s an awful lot of pause words in the course of the day.
Even though you may have studied English, taken public speaking courses, or you are an active member of Toastmasters, you will still occasionally use “vocal disfluencies” or filler words when you’re waiting for your mouth to catch up to your brain.  Also among the more common utterances are the word “like” and the phrase, “you know.” “Right?” is currently is heavy rotation too.  And while formal training in public speaking can help us learn to minimize such usage, for many of us, it has become part of our patois and unavoidable and persists unconsciously.
In our youth, enjoinders such as the ones just mentioned, are not just common, but almost accepted as part of casual speech. They are part of our brain’s mechanism for handling linguistic insecurity.  When we’re not fully sure of what to say these phrases become placeholders or formulation spaces as our brain is assembling what is to come out of our mouths next.  As we mature, we (hopefully) learn to pause and think before opening our mouths to formulate clear, coherent speech that contains far fewer of these sounds.
Are you surprised by certain people who continue to use such placeholders in their professional speech, particularly when they do a lot of public speaking, or are presenters of news or information on television?  Of course, when someone is reading from prepared material, and has thoroughly rehearsed what they are going to say, avoiding these speech ticks is much easier. But when one’s comments are unrehearsed and extemporaneous, those little utterances come back with frequency.
Like most habits, this one can also be broken.  The requisite behavior modification requires a concerted effort to minimize these offending exclamations. According to Speech and Language Therapist, Sarah Jordan, among the most effective methods for reducing these audible placeholders are:
Pausing before speaking to think and formulate what you want to say before speaking.
Taking an extra breath also gives you a chance to internally prepare what you want to say.
If you’re preparing any kind of presentation, making notes of what you want to say, and practice your delivery.
Record yourself speaking, prepared content or casual conversation (with the other person’s permission!) to learn when and where you most frequently insert verbal ticks.
Get in the habit of slowing down your speech a bit, giving yourself time to think specifically about what you want to say before anything comes out of your mouth.
By developing these new habits in your speech, you should be able to reduce the use of “um,” “uh” and/or “like”.  Even a minimal change in the delivery of your speech can give you more control for omitting those verbal annoyances.  And when used judiciously, those silent pauses and well-placed breaths can be effective in adding both drama and character to your verbal delivery.
If you want to take your personal presentations to the next level, eliminating, or at least reducing these verbal annoyances is the target on which to focus your efforts.  Practice reading some prepared text into a recorder. Then record yourself talking extemporaneously about what you’ve read.  The more confident you become with your material, the easier it will be to concentrate on the delivery of your content and be able to think less about the reduction or eventual elimination of the annoying um’s and uh’s.
About now you’re asking yourself, “Why is this important?  Why can’t I just talk the way I talk?” The answer is simple: When you’re looking for work or running a business, you want to be thought of as intelligent, thoughtful and competent.  When you speak clearly, concisely and thoughtfully, your listeners will notice.  By no means am I suggesting you put on an air of phony sophistication and snobbery in your conversations and presentations. Not at all!  When you put up a false front, your listeners will often see right through the façade.  It’s ok to be appropriately colloquial.  But when you eliminate those um’s, uh’s and like’s, from your delivery, others’ perception of you will rise.  And when others think highly of you, it motivates and instills confidence, promotes understanding and encourages others to take you seriously.  And when you’re looking for work, being taken seriously is what pays.
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