For most professionals, the use of words like “Uh,” “Um” and “So…” can easily get out of control if we’re not conscious of them. These innocent-seeming filler words aren’t an issue when they’re said once or twice in a meeting (in which case they can actually make a person seem more considered), it’s their repetitive use that really kills a person’s credibility.
Perhaps you’re unprepared in a meeting and struggling to answer a tough question. Maybe you’re overtired and stammering to focus on your central point or get out the corresponding words. Whatever the case, when we hear consistent verbal stumbling, we assume the speaker is unsure of herself.
The good news is that you can steer your speech habits away from “Um” and “Uh” to more surefooted language. Try experimenting with the following strategies to reduce these words in your speech:
Ask yourself how much you’re really preparing for the meetings you attend and you’ll probably see a correlation between when you say “Um” and when you lack planning or preparedness. As you work to eradicate “Ums,” try actively shifting into “presenter mode” when it’s your turn to talk. Even that small but conscious shift in terms of which hat you’re wearing—listener or presenter—can curb your dependence on filler words. Unlike many career advisors, I’m not going to tell you to relax or stop being nervous in order to change this bad habit. On the contrary, my observation is that people often say “Um” when they aren’t nervous enough…when they’re being overly casual!
So behave like you’re at the pitch meeting of your life, selling your most coveted idea to funders. The “Um’s” will lessen, I promise.
What’s helped you improve your speech? What “credibility diminishers” have you gotten rid of?
*This post was originally featured on my Work in Progress blog for Forbes*
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