In a truth-facing moment, my speech coach told me this:
“If you are saying ‘um’ and ‘uh’ often in your presentation, you might as well be saying ‘dumb’ and ‘duh’ because that’s what the audience hears.”
Filler words. Disfluencies. Distractors.
Whatever you call them, I was a repeat offender. The coach asked me to tell a story off the cuff about a favorite trip I’d taken. As I described the mountains and the generous people of Monterrey, Mexico, I apparently overused “uh.”
“Now take your VHS tape [ahem, it was a while back] upstairs to play it and count how many filler words you used.”
We all have our verbal wubbies… those words we cling to when we are unsure of our next thought, nervous about our audience, or needing the comfort of a habit.
Um, uh, like, you know, basically, sort of, kind of, eh, literally, make sense, and my favorite, the <lip smack.>
Getting rid of them takes time, but you can do it. Start by setting your smart phone to video your next phone conversation (you only need the audio). Listen to it. Count the filler words. Try again. Try again. And then, try again.
Focus on replacing those words with silence. Scary, crazy silence. Slow down. Seriously, SLOW DOWN. I know it’s uncomfortable. Do it anyway.
Con claro: Slowing down and using silence will raise your perceived power. Powerful people take their time. They are deliberate with words. They have the power to take up time in the conversation and are regarded as clear and logical.