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!) hence fewer posts/videos/blogs than normal. And to make a change I wanted us to share some of the problems we think are really interesting when they come up with our clients.

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 the things he did as a not do good habit was a lot of hesitation – he left spaces between words, but they weren’t silent spaces. As he was talking it would sometime be sentence…erm…. Word, word, word …um… etc. Silent pauses can be very powerful, but these came across as hesitation and uncertainty in what he was saying.

Mindsets matter

We’re really passionate about finding out what’s going on underneath that behaviour not just saying “well stop saying erm and um and instead put pause in”. Why? It’s all very well to say that, but he won’t do it because his mindset is saying something else. So, what we do is to really understand what it is that the voices in his head (aka monkeys) were doing to cause that problem. I asked him to think consciously about what was happening when he spoke and after some digging what 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, all the time 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 you can think is that the best way to say it and then you can re-write it. (I’m not saying that’s very time efficient but nonetheless it works). In 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 and then 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 because they are occasional, and they are not necessarily in every sentence that you’re saying. And there is silence in the gap in between words. 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*

”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!

Dee Clayton

Posted by Dee Clayton on 16 Jun 2020

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