015: Stop Saying Um (or not)



In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about that stinking little filler word, um, also known as I, and even sometimes, you know. Those filler words that we use over and over and over can get crazy annoying to you, and to your listeners. We’re going to talk about how you can get rid of it from your vocabulary and when you should actually keep it.

Many of the clients that I work with are either already public speakers, or they want to start their podcast, because they want to be a public speaker, or at least do more public speaking. So they want to get their show out there, so that they can start practicing their public presentation skills, but also so that others can hear them, and be interested in hiring them. They can reach their audience, I mean, there’s lots of reasons for it.

But, here’s a thing thing that I noticed that they’ll often come to me and they will have met with a speaking trainer, or perhaps they will be in Toastmasters, to learn public speaking, or they just remember that dreaded high school English class that they took, where their teacher was counting their um’s in their 10-minute talk. The worst, right, counting my um’s. Then the teacher is at the end like, “You had eight um’s in those three and a half minutes.” And you’re like, “Wow, that’s terrible.”

Listen, we’re conditioned time after time after time of learning all these things that the word um, or ah, or you know, so, blah, blah, blah, whatever; all those things are intended to be taken out of a public presentation. I happen to agree up to a certain point.

Let me talk about first the areas that I agree with removing um, and ah, those fillers.

I’m going to share with you a story about when I was in college, I had this very dear friend. She’s an incredible woman, and she had a habit of saying: “and stuff.” And stuff, um, and stuff, and stuff, and stuff, and stuff, and stuff. It was a very, very bizarre filler that she created this habit around. She would be telling a story, and stuff, and she would start with: we went into the cafeteria and stuff. Then, you know, we would, you know, get our things, and stuff, and then we would this and stuff.

It was just and stuff, and stuff, and stuff. To the point where she would actually finish your sentence, someone else, my sentence, with “and stuff”. Imagine you’re speaking with me and you might be saying something like, “Oh yeah. It was a great Saturday. We went to the ball game,” she actually would say, “Ah, and stuff.” I was like, “Where did this habit come from? How did she get this habit? Has anyone told her not to do this?”

It turns out, someone had told her before I did. It was something that she was working on, but she didn’t know how to shake it, it was just simply a bad habit. Well, one way, for example, Toastmasters, when you give a practice talk at Toastmasters, oftentimes the people in the audience are asked to count how many times you use a filler word like um. Um is the most popular.

So imagine, um, if you give a talk and um, you are going through your talk and you, some of the things you remember what to say, um, and then other things you’re, um, not remembering what to say.

You could see how that gets very frustrating to listen to, because it’s very difficult. There are a lot of pauses, it’s like confusing the listeners, and they’re trying to understand where you’re headed with this, they might be guessing where you’re going next while you’re saying, “Um.” It can be very draining for the audience to even be listening to. Because they’re trying to follow, but it’s getting confusing. That is where it needs to be removed. If you have habits like that where you are using filler words because you either don’t have something to say next, or you find yourself trying to think, think, think, and you’re just not comfortable with the silence, okay.

So here’s what you need to do. If that’s you, if I’m speaking to you and you’re like, “I have this habit, this is my problem.” Personally, let me share with you personally, I say “so, ““So, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” often. (Uh-oh, I shouldn’t have pointed out to you, because now you’re probably going to hear it over and over) But, personally, that’s something I’m trying to work on: So, blah, blah, blah, I always do that, and I’m trying to get rid of it.

Here’s the thing that you got to do. You have to be comfortable with silence. That’s step one. Just be comfortable with silence.

Be comfortable taking a bit of a pause to think through what it is you want to say next, or what you just said incorrectly, because that’s another reason that we often will use our fillers, is if we said something and then we’re like, “Ooh, I don’t like how that came out. So I need to change how that …” So then I go, “Um, what I mean is,” and I’m trying to think of saying it in a different way.

So, sometimes it’s that, you know, we said something wrong, and instead of then, “Uuuum,” and then changing it, just have a moment, just pause. Then come back and say, “I think I may have misspoke. What I meant to say was.” Then continue. So that’s thing one.

Now, the second thing is slightly contrary to what many schools of thought offer, which is in many situations they often will pain you every time you say it. So this is the, you’ve probably heard of the thing where you wear a rubber band on one side, and then when you do the habit, you snap yourself. This is like the visual and physical reminder that you did the thing that you didn’t want to do. But, what it’s doing is it’s adding shame, guilt, pressure, negative consequence to that thing.

Sometimes, that’s enough to run from the thing. Okay, so if every time you said the word um, someone shocked you, or zapped you, or snapped your rubber band, or something, you would likely eventually be so afraid of saying that word that you would in fact go the other direction. However, there’s a better way to do it. Not only can you start to be comfortable with silence.

But instead of shaming yourself every time you say the word um, or if you said it eight times in a three-minute speech or something, instead of focusing on that, the fact that you did it, instead focus on why, why am I doing that?

Is it truly just a bad habit? Is it something deeper? Is there maybe something that you don’t feel really comfortable about the topic that you’re speaking on? That’s oftentimes why we use fillers, especially um and ah, because um, ah, we’re um, we’re um, trying to think of what we’re saying next.

That can often happen, is that we’re really, uuum, how do I say this? Um, um, ah. Okay, so if that what’s happening to you, and that’s the thing that you’re noticing that’s coming up for you like, “Why is this happening to me? Why do I keep doing this?” It could be because you just don’t know your topic that well. And you just need to get to know your topic better. Right.

Another reason that it could be is that you simply just aren’t comfortable with the space. I think that that was my college friend who kept filling my empty space with and stuff. You know, if I would stop speaking, and then she would be, “Um, and stuff.” It was a filler because there was a lack comfortability with the silence, and the period, and just letting things end. There was a need to continue talking.

You also may notice that people will use um when they feel like they’re about to be cut off by somebody else. So in conversation, you might be talking with somebody, and they want to continue talking, and so they end their sentence, but um, um, and um. They’re trying to think, they want to keep talking. They’re using up the space, they’re using up the space, because they don’t want to give you the floor yet. Um, um, and so it’s still on them, um, until they think of the next thing that they want to say.

I want you to actually identify why is it that I’m using this word. So, if people are asking, rather, if you are asking others to count your um’s, of if they’re counting the um’s, I want you to also ask them what does it look like I’m using um in place of? Am I using um in place of not knowing where I’m going? Am I using um in place of not understanding the content enough? Am I using um in place of silence? Am I using um in place of allowing someone else to speak? Why is it that I’m using um?

When you cognitively understand where it’s coming from, now you have a basis for change. Because now instead of just snapping yourself and trying to stop the bad habit, now you’re actually saying, “Why is this happening? And how do I actually fix it?” It may simply be get to know your content better, right, it might simply be that you need to, um… look, I just did it, because I was thinking in my head. Ah, that was a natural ah, and I didn’t know what I was going to say next. That was the reason I used that um, because I, “You might need to,” and I was like, “Uh, what else could you do there?” Right.

So I’m just going to let that one go, I don’t have an answer for that, okay? So these are the things that you can do to get rid of it now. I also promised you that we’re going to also talk about why you might keep the um’s, the ah’s, those types of things. So naturally, in human conversation, we do actually use these things just naturally. We use certain words a little bit more than other words in our vocabulary. Or perhaps we do use um or ah, or you know, or and stuff, to communicate our message. And oh, that’s fine.

Where it’s not fine is when it becomes distracting, or when you miscommunicate something. But, when it’s fine, is when it’s a natural part of conversation.

When my company edits other people’s podcast, it’s a part of our work, we bring people’s content, we edit their content, and publish it as a podcast. When we use somebody’s work, we do not edit out their um, ah, ah, like my editor is not going to edit these things out. Because it’s a part of personality. It’s a part of who I am. This is how I talk, right.

So, if I’m going to be talking like this naturally on my show, this is how you are getting to know me. My audience is understanding me with these personal characteristics that are a part of how I speak anyway. It would be inauthentic to remove all little um’s. In fact, when podcasting first, really hit the scene, um, really like almost 10 years ago. When podcasting hit the scene, it was very popular to edit out all of the um’s and ah’s. That’s what editors did. They edited all out.

But nowadays, for personal brands, it’s almost vital to keep it in there. Because that’s how you talk. This is who you are. This is how you present yourself. If you’re editing out all these little things from the end result, now, it’s one thing if you self edit, and you’re doing the work to remove them from your actual, natural speech. But when you’re handing it off to your editor, and having them take everything out, it now is not who you are. It sounds robotic. It sounds like you are trying to be something that you’re not.

That inauthenticity will be communicated to your audience in a way that you do not want it to. Instead, you want to keep those, because that is who you are. Especially, if you want to be a public speaker, that comes with the package. You don’t want to have your podcast feel so sharp, and so cleanly edited, but then when I meet you in person, you’re a completely different person, that’s very inauthentic, it’s hard to now trust you. Because I got to know you in your podcast, right. That’s the thing that we want to make sure has a smooth transition.

Ways to get rid of it are really just paying attention to where is this coming from, and why am I doing this, what are my habits in this. Then, there are times when you can keep it, which is when it’s not distracting, when it’s a part of just naturally who you are, and when it’s authentic to your personal brand.

At the end of the day, people are going to love you for you. It doesn’t matter about all these little tweaks to your personality, like editing out, you don’t want to edit your whole personality out of yourself, okay, it is who you are and they’re going to love you.

Thank you so much for listening. I would be honored if you’d hop over to iTunes from your computer and leave a five-star rating and review. Tell me what you love most about the podcast, and what you’d like to see more of. That is how podcast prospers, I would be so grateful for your help.

Thank you again,
I’ll talk to you soon.