How many times have you found yourself counting the “ums” and “uhs” in a presentation? Pretty frustrating, but don’t let it continue – especially if that speaker is a colleague or friend.
First, don’t tell any speakers of their flaws right after the presentation. They’ll be on a “speaker’s high” (whether they were effective or not) and not open to constructive criticism. If possible, record the speech so that you can give them the opportunity to personally hear or see the effect of their non-words. They you can suggest the following:
- Practice pausing. Non-words are just pause fillers, and extend beyond the typical “um” and “uh” to “you knows,” “ands,” “okays,” “right” and the like. All anyone has to do is practice leaving pauses of two or three seconds after each sentence. In this exercise the speaker will at first feel the pauses are excruciatingly long.
- Get continuous feedback. Suggest that the speaker records herself at every opportunity (audio or video) while she is consciously practicing leaving pauses. She will hear the disparity between how much shorter the pauses actually are than they seem when speaking. This gives confidence to practice even more.
- Prove it! Pauses appear as measured thoughts. To prove this to the speaker stand up and give a short impromptu talk, consciously leaving pauses of varying length. (Don’t tell him what you are doing.) Then ask his reactions. He will perceive the longer pauses as appropriate additions to the presentation.
Non-words are a habit that pervades casual conversation as well as formal speeches. Those who have the non-word disease can become more aware and learn new habit patterns by recording their phone conversations or informal meetings. They can also ask the help of a close associate to give them direct feedback by just saying their name every time they utter an “um” or “uh.”