How to stop saying ‘um’ and ‘erm’ when presenting?

How to stop saying ‘um’ and ‘erm’ when presenting?

Happily, we’ve been busy with virtual clients lately, not only just across the UK but across the globe (we’ve been speaking to clients from the Czech Republic to China!) So, we thought it would be interesting for us to share some of the problems we think are really interesting when they come up with our clients.

Many would agree that there has never been a better time to adapt to a virtual environment. However, that is not to say it doesn’t come with its challenges. Recently, one of our virtual presentation skills clients worked with us to overcome their fear and nerves around speaking (we helped him to tame and train his Public Speaking Monkeys). One of his bad habits was a lot of hesitation – he left spaces between words, but they weren’t silent spaces. As he started talking, he would start saying…erm…. Word, word, word …um… etc. Silent pauses can be very powerful, but these filler words came across as hesitation and uncertainty in what he was saying.

Mindsets matter

We’re passionate about finding out what’s going on underneath that behaviour not just saying “well stop saying erm and um and instead put pauses in”. Why? It’s all very well to say that, but he won’t do it because his mindset is saying something else. So, we aim to look deeper into what it is that the voices were saying in his head (aka monkeys) to cause the problem. For more information see our blog: “The Mindset for Speaking Success

I asked him to think consciously about what was happening when he spoke and after some digging, we discovered that his monkey was talking to him at the very same time he was trying to talk to the audience. He was trying to say something but in every single presentation, his monkey was then trying to double-check by saying “is what you’re saying the best it can be?” In an email, that strategy can work – you could write an email sentence then think “is that the best way to say it?” and re-write it accordingly. (I’m not saying that’s very time efficient but it works). In a speech, it does not work. Why? Because humans only have one auditory channel – you cannot speak aloud at the same time you are speaking to yourself! What happens is a stop and start pattern – you speak out loud, the monkey might say “is that the best way to say it?” and then you say something out loud. BUT you cannot do each of those fluently. You must stop each time, or use filler words which comes across as being hesitant (well you are being hesitant aren’t you?)

Pauses are powerful when used well, they benefit both the speaker and the audience. With monkeys, the gaps are too frequent and people tend to hold their word too long or put in ums and erms in the gaps.

For information on how apps can help your speaking voice and volume click here.

”Just say it!”

So, our message is tame your monkeys then…”just say it!” Of course, with the caveat that if you have an important message and presentation you do need to plan the key messages using our SAS training before you just say it!

If you’re constantly talking to yourself “just stop it!”

*This may also be the reason why when people are speaking in a different language, they often use ums to hold the gap, as they speak to themselves and translate their message. I’ll have to do more research on that now!

If you know you want to improve your presentation skills but aren’t quite sure where to start, visit our page to help you choose the best next steps for you

Posted by Dee Clayton on 16 Jun 2020

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