Key 54. Get rid of the ums & ers.

When someone intersperses their sentences with the word ‘um’ or ‘er’ or ‘ah’, the message they send is something like, ‘I’m struggling here, so give me space. I’m thinking about what I’m going to say, because I don’t quite know what I’m talking about. Just wait.’

That’s what an ‘um’ means. Even though the person continues speaking a fraction of a second later, the damage is done. On a subconscious level the listener has received that message, and on that same subconscious level will take the speaker a fraction less seriously.

Listen to a person confident in what they are saying. They won’t ‘um’ or ‘er’. They speak fluently and articulately. The message they give is: I know what I am talking about.

Simply: don’t do it. Don’t intersperse your sentences with ‘um’ and ‘er’.

Every time you ‘um’ and ‘ah’ you tell the listener that you don’t have a firm belief in what you are saying. You are admitting that you’re coming up with the material as you go along, or that you don’t know how to impart what you want to say. Either way, you are admitting that you’re struggling. You send that message, yet want the listener to take you seriously?

And, leave out each and every you know. ‘Well, he was terrified, you know. He . . .’

You’ve seen television advertisements. Does the person talking to you um and er? No, they don’t. Advertisement-makers make damned sure their speakers sound confident. Take their lead.

When you learn to speak without umming you increase your chances of sounding like you know what you are talking about. You’re speaking with conviction. You sound intelligent. Authoritative. Sharp.

Your listener will probably not notice that you are not umming, and not notice that you sound clear and direct, and not notice that to listen to you speak is a pleasure. But on a subconscious level they willnotice.

That’s my claim, anyway. The researcher, Nicholas Christenfeld, in his article ‘Does it Hurt to Say Um?’ disagrees. He says ums do little harm, and that we only notice them when we aren’t listening to the speaker’s content (i.e. when the speaker isn’t interesting). He concludes by suggesting we make our content interesting.

Nicholas doesn’t negate the subconscious effects, which are hard to measure. But even if he is correct, few of us are always interesting, so we can still benefit by deleting our ums.

But this book isn’t about how we can impress people. It’s about satisfying our deep need to belong and adding to our core happiness. When we can speak fluently and articulately, we ourselves are impressed. We sound good to ourselves. We appear more confident to ourselves. That sends ourselves a big message: I’m expressing my thoughts the way I want to express them.’ That’s a big confidence booster. We are expressing what we want to express clearly, and the listener gets the message that we are confident in what we say, and so they take us seriously. Speaker & listener, connected.

Whereas, someone who ums continually is sending to their listener and to themselvesthe message that they don’t fully know what they are talking about. Speaker & listener, disconnected.

In short, get rid of the fillers in your sentences :   um    ah   er   you   know
And while you are at it, get rid of these ones too:
‘sort of’ ‘kind of’    ‘He kind of faded away.’
‘actually’   ‘Actually, she survived.’
‘like’    ‘He was, like, confused.’

‘You know what I mean’    ‘She died, do you know what I mean?’

Sometimes we get a brief mental block and can’t think of the right word. If that happens to you, don’t worry. It happens. I am not referring to those occasions. I’m only talking about the conversation filler words described above. If you are struggling to think of the right word, or what you are going to say next, pause. Silence is fine. A pause tells the listener you are looking for the right way, to express yourself. It tells the listener that you care about them enough to consider your words carefully. Whereas an ‘um’ instead of a pause tells the listener that you are lost and unsure of yourself. A different message entirely.
Pauses are good.

Rid yourself of fillers. The benefits again:
– a better presentation. It’s more entertaining for your listener and easier to listen to.
– you appear to you know what you’re talking about, so the listener takes you more seriously.
– you appear less nervous, which helps your listener relax.
– you convince yourself that you are confident.

All those benefits add up to one big benefit: you connect with people. You express yourself better and your listener takes it in better.

Q. ‘Mark, everyone says ‘um’ and ‘er’.’
That’s no reason for you to say it when you’re talking to someone. Reap the benefits of not saying it.

Q. ‘Mark, I don’t think I ‘um’ much.’

You might be right. To find out for certain, play the ‘Half Minute Game’ described below.

Q. ‘Do you ‘um’, Mark?’

Yep. One slips in now and then.

A good, fun way to get out of the habit of saying ‘um’.

Before we can eradicate them from our speech we first need to train our brain to notice them. Once we do that we can see the filler words coming and refrain from expressing them. Then, after a while, the brain stops producing them.

It isn’t difficult. It just requires the will to get rid of them, and a little practise. The ‘Half Minute Game’ is a fun way to lose the habit. The game is borrowed from an entertaining BBC radio program called, ‘Just a Minute’, created by Ian Messiter.

The ‘Half Minute Game’ is a good game to play when you are watching commercial television with someone and there is a gang of advertisements, because it’s a good use of the time, and it’s fun.

‘The Half Minute Game.

Requirements: (1) a timer or stopwatch. (2) At least one companion. (3) Treats (optional).

Rules: You’re watching television. When the advertisements come on, mute them (as you would anyway!), and give your companion a topic to talk about for thirty seconds. Your companion begins immediately. If your companion includes an ‘um’, ‘er’ or ‘you know’ (or uses some other detestable term they have a habit of using) before their thirty seconds are up, their turn ends. They have failed. (Yes, there is such a thing as failure.)

If your companion manages to speak for the entire thirty seconds without mentioning the unmentionables, congratulate them.

It’s now your companion’s turn to give you a topic, and your turn to speak.

The person talking when the advertisements end is the winner for that round, and gets a treat.

(1) When you become adept, include the other rules from the ‘Just a Minute Game’:
– No hesitations
– No repetitions of a word, unless it’s a commonly used word required for forming a 
 sentence. (Though any word in the title can be repeated.)
– No deviations from the subject.

(2) Give a treat at the end of each successfully completed thirty seconds.

(3) Change the time to a minute. Or, to the entire time the gang of advertisements are on!

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