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Speak Confidently—How to Eliminate Ums, Uhs, and Likes

3 July 2018

Eden read So, like, how can I, um, clean up my speech? by Lisa Evans and practiced being comfortable with awkward silence.

Tags: communication, eden read

Are you a pro at public speaking? Neither am I. In fact, it usually doesn’t take more than an audience of one to make me fumble over my speech and begin to use “filler words.” Filler words are the words we say when we’re not sure what to say next, such as “uh,” “like,” and “um.” If you’ve ever presented information or listened to someone present information, chances are you know how distracting filler words can be and you also know how hard it is to stop using them.

That’s why I found Fast Company’s article, So, like, how can I, um, clean up my speech?, both comforting and practical. In the article, author Lisa Evans explains several tips for eliminating filler words from your vocabulary. She says that we use filler words because “our brains don’t like silence.” So, every time you lose track of your speech for a moment, your brain fills in the gap with a dreaded “uh,” “like,” or “um.”

Evans’ first piece of advice for eliminating filler words is to record yourself talking. This tip echoed the advice that Rachel gave me last year when I needed to practice giving a presentation for a webinar. As someone who cringes at the sound of my voice on recording, I know that this exercise is not the most comfortable thing to try. However, listening to myself give a presentation helped me to become familiar with my speech patterns and the places where I tend to use filler words. While I still need lots of practice presenting information to others, it makes sense that the first step to sounding confident in front of an audience is making sure you can sound confident when you are talking to yourself.

My favorite piece of advice from Evans’ article is “don’t be afraid of the silence.” Evans says that we avoid pausing in speech because we are afraid that our audience will attribute a pause to lack of confidence or lack of preparation. However, Evans argues using filler words makes us seem more anxious than having a deliberate pause in speech. I am going to practice replacing filler words with pauses and see if it makes a difference next time I record myself talking.

Some days, I wish I could blame my awkward speech delivery on the fact that I was homeschooled for 14 years. But, I think the truth is that in addition to the fact that I don’t enjoy the attention that comes with presenting information, I also haven’t practiced very much. I think that recording myself talking and replacing filler words with pauses are two easy ways I can practice speaking more confidently. I recommend reading the rest of Evans’ article to see if there is any advice that specifically resonates with you.


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