So, I’m driving to work one day, and I’m listening to talk-radio. The host (who has been on the air so long that when Marconi invented the radio, he held the screwdriver), was interviewing a guest about her new book. Suddenly, I noticed that his questions were studded with “uhs” and “ums.” I thought professional broadcasters never said “uh,” but from one article I read on the subject, many radio personalities, as well as some very highly paid TV talk-show hosts, are the biggest offenders. Maybe he just wasn’t prepared enough and began winging it. The longer I listened, the more the “uhs” stood out. Finally, they became so irritating, I had to change the station.
While some people are naturals at speaking to a crowd, many more are not. That said, it’s likely that at some point you will have to address a group of people. It could be a toast, a eulogy, a sales presentation, a trade show speech, etc. When the time comes, you’ll want to be as clear and concise as possible.
The key is, don’t agonize over it; “um’s” and “uh’s” come naturally to everybody, especially when speaking to strangers. These words are called “fillers” or “filled pauses,” and usually happen because you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. In other words, fillers signify the point between planning what you want to say and actually saying it. Most listeners will bear with some fillers, but too many can become annoying and eventually the audience will “turn you off.”
It’s not hard to get your um’s and uh’s down to a minimum. By following some simple rules and a little practice you’ll sound much more eloquent.
Be prepared! The more you rehearse your speech, the better. You’ll also get off to a much better start if you memorize the first couple of sentences.
Begin with an amusing anecdote or joke. Some speakers start off with a story or a joke, because they know it well enough to tell it without fillers. More importantly, it helps both you and the audience loosen up a bit.
Avoid distractions. Anything that can possibly divert your attention while speaking can actually increase your filler pauses. You have enough to concentrate on, so ignore that cell phone ringing and stay focused on what you’re saying.
Write and speak in shorter sentences. Longer sentences will allow more “uhs” to sneak in. Shorter sentences make you sound more knowledgeable and confident.
Try to replace filled pauses with silent pauses. This “dramatic pause” technique can work to your advantage, since it can help emphasize certain phrases and points within your presentation; just don’t overdo it.