“How do I get rid of the “um’s” and “uh’s” in my speeches?

Question: “I’ve been told that I say the words “um” and “uh” throughout my presentation. Most of the time I don’t even notice that I say them. How do I get rid of this habit?” – Josh, Montreal QC

Answer: I’ve got good news for you – the very fact that you’re aware that you’re using these “filler words” will get you that much closer to stopping it.  Here are a few things to try to eliminate – or at the very least, reduce – these words from your speaking vocabulary:

1.    Practice! When you are using the “um” “ah” “like” or any other filler word, it’s typically because you are thinking “on the spot”. A well-rehearsed speech, knowing your material well, and practicing out loud will help you avoid having to do your thinking during delivery. 

2.    Record yourself while practicing so you can hear where you tend to “um” and “ah” the most. Then you’ll know when they’re most likely to occur so that you can address them before they happen.
3.    Instead of a using filler word, pause. As soon as you think you’re about to say one, simply pause, let the filler word pass in silence, and then continue your speech. The added bonus of pausing is that it helps a speaker emphasize a point, and can add impact to a speech.
Fretting over one or two “um’s” in a longer presentation is not anything to worry about. The time to get concerned is when your audience is so distracted by your “um’s” that they stop paying attention to your message. So fix what you can, give yourself a break, and keep on speaking!
Showing 3 comments
  • Paul LeBlanc

    Your excellent suggestions, as always, remind me of another tactic I suggest to candidates to avoid during an employment interview.

    Rather than replying ”That’s a good question” (presumably interviewers think all their questions are clever!) remain silent for the 3-4 seconds it takes to gather yourself and frame your response.

    Paul LeBlanc
    Career Transition Coach

  • Suzannah Baum

    Paul, I LOVE that suggestion! I’ve had many clients or students ask me if it’s advisable to say “um” or “uh,” just so that there’s no silence during the conversation. As you alluded, there’s no reason to be afraid of silence. Better to be silent than to add “noise” in the form of unnecessary words. Powerful pauses are VERY, well…powerful!

    Thanks for posting!

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