Vocalized pauses or fillers, including um, uh, ah, and their close relatives like, you know, and OK? are some of the most common concerns brought to a speech coach. We don’t um want to uh get too um picky here, since 1 to 3 percent of everyone’s speech normally contains hesitations, and folks like Ted Kennedy have spoken successfully in public life despite long aah pauses. However, a bad case of um-itis makes you annoying to listen to. So why do so many of us um along in life? Most often, vocalized pauses function as a way to fill up space as we formulate the next thought. Though old habits take some time to break, it is possible to banish the ums and ahs forever.
For Um and Uh Extermination
- Spend a week observing your um and uh pattern. One client kept an um tally on her clipboard whenever she spoke at a meeting. Just becoming aware of the dimension of the problem helps you cut down.
Optional: Enlist the help of a friend to signal when you’re using too many fillers in your everyday conversation.
- Practice deliberately inserting silent one- or two-second pauses into your speech. Many people who um their listeners to distraction don’t realize that short silences are less obtrusive and perfectly acceptable.
Your goal is to allow a slight pause instead of unnecessary vocalizing. Try to catch the start of um and uh (you can feel it in a movement of your vocal cords). Nip it in the bud and just be silent instead!
Laurie Schloff is an Executive Communications Coach with The Speech Improvement Company
Her book “Smart Speaking” is available on Amazon.com