You can break the habit of saying um, uh, and ah
So you’re asking “how do I stop saying um.” Trust me, you’re not alone.
Nothing detracts from an otherwise outstanding speech than the constant distraction of the verbal pause.
Whether your crutch word is uh, um, ah, like, you know, or one of a hundred others, there are methods to breaking the habit.
Read on if to learn some tried and true techniques.
1. Recognize the problem
Congratulations! You’ve already begun the path to recovery; that is, you recognize you have a problem.
For many, this realization alone will take care of most of the problem.
2. Embrace the silence
One reason you say ‘um’ is to fill in the gaps between ideas. When speaking in front of an audience, even the shortest pauses can seem endless.
Try to understand that silence during a speech can be a good thing. A pause in your speech allows the audience to absorb the point, and it’s not nearly as long to them as it is to you.
3. Know your stuff (practice)
The first rule of public speaking is to know your topic inside and out. Walking to the lectern knowing you’re the expert will put you in the right frame of mind, and keep the ‘ums’ at bay.
Additionally, practicing your speech well will provide you greater confidence which is your first line of defense against verbal pauses.
4. Memorize your Intro
For the most part, memorizing your speech word for word is a bad idea. However, to help calm the nerves, it’s good practice to have your beginning down cold.
Memorizing your introduction and the transition into your first major point of the speech will provide you confidence at the start of the presentation. This will help you overcome some of the nervousness that tends to lead to verbal pauses.
5. Practice not saying them
I know, this doesn’t make sense at first. Don’t just work on the problem during a formal speech. Try to work on this during your daily conversations.
The more you focus on not saying ‘um,’ even when speaking with friends, the quicker you’ll break the habit.
6. Look for chances to speak
Speaking of practice, one of the best ways to beat the verbal pauses is to work on them during actual speeches. Unfortunately for most of us, we don’t get the chance very often.
Awhile back, I wrote an article entitled, “Getting Public Speaking Experience,” offering ideas on ways to get some practice outside of the workplace.
7. Start counting
The next time you give a speech, have a friend count the number of times you use your verbal crutch (ah, um, like, etc.). You’ll be amazed at how many times you can say these in a simple 5-7 minute presentation.
If you can practice in front of a friend or two, have them give you a verbal cue each time you say ‘um.’ A bell or a loud clicker will help you focus on how often these are used.
8. Listen for them in others
Warning, this can get addictive. Sit down and watch the news or a presentation on C-Span. Count how many verbal pauses you hear over a 5-minute presentation or debate.
You’ll be amazed at how often even those who make their living on camera will say ‘um’ or ‘ah’ during their speech.
9. Record yourself
One of the best, and one of the most painful, ways to improve your public speaking ability is to tape yourself. Watching yourself give a speech will pinpoint exactly where you need to improve.
While it may be difficult to watch, this will pay big dividends for your next presentation.
10. Join Toastmasters
Toastmaster’s reason for existence is to provide you a friendly and supportive atmosphere to hone your skills. The clubs consist of new and experienced speakers, typically meeting once a week for a few hours.
Go to www.toastmasters.org to find a club and to read about their programs. There are currently over 12,500 clubs, with more than 260,000 members worldwide.
Hopefully one or two of the methods above will work for you. Feel free to comment and add some ideas of your own.