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Silence is Golden

Published on April 11, 2012, by in General Posts.

“How do I stop saying “Um” during presentations?”

This was another question I received from a reader in the last week and many people have asked me this over the years.  It is one of the most common frustrations for speakers because they worry that fillers such as “um” will make them sound less organized, credible and polished.  So if you have experienced this – you are not alone.  The good news is that whatever your choice of “filler sound” is – um, uh, you know, etc., you can reduce it, also decreasing the distractions for your listeners.

Any delivery habit you don’t want, you can practice the other extreme to do less of it, even get rid of it altogether if you care enough to do so.  With fillers, the opposite is silence.  So, you can practice using ridiculously long pauses.  It can help to have others listen to you practice or videotape yourself.  Note where your fillers were.  Then practice putting LONG pauses in at those spots.  And I mean uncomfortably long, anywhere that you had originally used a filler.  This bumps your comfort zone to widen gradually and you realize that you CAN pause.

Remember the following:

  • Pausing to choose your next words is natural, sincere & less distracting.
  • This is not 1 on 1 conversation, you are the speaker and have the floor (most audiences won’t interrupt you, won’t take your pause as a turn-taking cue).
  • If you are not uncomfortable with how long your practice pauses are, it will not stretch your comfort level as much or as quickly.
  • You can remind yourself in your actual note cards to (“Pause”). (Use parentheses for “notes to self” so you don’t read them out loud).
  • This could take 4-7 times of practicing one speech and doing it for your next 3 or 4 speeches but as you get better, it will get easier.

You might improve slowly at first but when your awareness and comfort with pausing increases, you’ll realize it’s starting to work which will make it worth continuing to improve and then you’ll get much better.  You can even get to the point where you use pauses strategically for emphasis!  Mainly, reducing your fillers will make it easier for your audiences to listen and for you to reach them.

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