Have you ever listened to a speaker who used so many ahs or ums that you started counting them? When that happens, you then lose the ability to concentrate on what the speaker is saying. Suffice it to say that the ums or ahs become the message.

Um, ah, uh and you know are verbal tics usually heard from inexperienced speakers although I have certainly had occasion to hear them from well-known presenters too. Generally, these verbal tics are found at the end of a sentence or a paragraph but they can also be heard in the midst of a sentence as well. (If you are um-ing or ah-ing every 4-5 words however, either you really do not know your material or you need to work on your communication skills.)

An occasional um or ah is not the problem. The problem occurs when we hear these interruptions in a constant or repeated pattern. This is where the counting begins.

I once had a client, a young college student, who was taking my course along with several other telesales colleagues. I would video the participants on the phone in real conversation with perspective clients and then play it back. When this young man heard the number of uhs he used, (he couldn’t even say the name of the company for which he worked without an uh!), he got up, left the room, and did not return to class that evening. A basketball player with amazing drive and determination, this fellow came back the next week and surprised us all when he was able to speak on the phone with nary an um or an ah! What an incredible change we witnessed.

Some presenters are afraid of silence. Admittedly, in conversation, there is always the possibility that your listener may interrupt you; but, on the podium, chances are not likely that someone will try to take over your speech or presentation. [Seminars are a bit different, however, because of the more relaxed nature of the medium in which questions are often asked during the presentation. Should you wish not to be interrupted, inform your audience that you will take questions at the end of the session.]

In public speaking, silence is known as the pause and it is a very effective means of keeping your audience’s attention. It is short, sweet and to the point, but it is there. It allows you to breathe as well as your listeners – to be bombarded with constant verbiage is tiring for your audience. While the pause can nicely fill the gap for the um or the ah, that does not mean pausing every 4-5 words because that type of rhythmic delivery will put your audience to sleep faster than your ums.

If you have a problem with a verbal tic, record yourself delivering part of your presentation. Play it back and listen for the ums. Practice your presentation again, concentrating on your words and the tics. This will take some effort because you will have to train yourself to be more cognizant of the occurrences. When you feel the need to ah, for example, just pause momentarily and then continue.

With a little determination and practice, you can rid yourself of these annoying tics. The notion that ‘silence is golden’ is truer in public speaking than you may have thought.

Author's Bio: 

The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels is President of Voice Dynamic as well as Selfgrowth's Official Guide to Public Speaking. Holding private, corporate and group workshops in voice and presentation skills, she also offers Voicing It!, the only video training program on voice improvement.

For more information on voice and presentations skills, click here for her 4-minute presentation, Tapping the Full Potential of the Speaking Voice

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