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Common Reasons People Use Ums and Ahs in Public Speaking – And How to Avoid Them (the Ums and Ahs, Not the People) – Part 2


Bad Speaking HabitsWhen I was a little girl, I remember some of my Girl Scout friends and I walking through a wooded area singing the lyrics, “I can see clearly now the rain has gone.  I can see all obstacles in my way.”  And then we would (fake) slam into a tree and laugh, and laugh at how clever we were!

While we were faking being blind-sided, there are times when you honestly don’t see it coming.  You go to a meeting or event with no expectations and you’re put on the spot to publicly make a statement.

Because it’s impromptu speaking, and you haven’t prepared, this too is a common time that ums and ahs can creep into your speech pattern.  Here are some suggestions for those circumstances.


Common Causes of Ums and Ahs – and How to Avoid Them in Public Speaking

Common Cause #2 – Blind-Sided – When You’re Asked to Make a Statement

Honestly consider first, could you have foresee someone asking you to make a statement.  If you should have know you’d be asked, go back to the last post and read about preparation.

Deep Breath

If you are totally surprised and need to say something, take a deep breath and start thinking about what you’ll say.

Repeat the Statement or Question

Repeat the statement or question that was posed as a way to further encourage your brain to think and to buy a little more time.

Replace the Um and Ah with a Pause

When you’ve got an idea or two formulated, start talking.  If you find yourself searching for a word or phrase to articulate your perspective, rather than going to ums and ahs, pause.  Fill the space with silence.  You’ll look contemplative to the audience.  And you’ll help keep yourself from filling in with unwanted verbal noise.

Get Practice Speaking Off the Cuff

Most Toastmasters clubs have a section of the meeting called Table Topics.  Table Topics are specifically designed to give you a chance to practice impromptu speaking.  The Table Topic master reads a question or a statement you one of the people at the meeting has to stand up and give a one to two minute response.

Whether you join a Toastmasters club or not, you can still practice in a similar fashion.  Give a colleague a list of tough question you want to practice answering.  Or better yet, ask your colleague to come up with questions or statements that they know you will dread answering.

Set up a time and do the experiment answering the questions.  Stand up and answer the questions just as you would in a public setting.  Let the body get used to what it feels like to be put on the spot and having to come up with a reasonable answer.


It’s Going to Be OK

People are empathetic knowing that you were just asked to speak without warning.  Unless you’re already a total jerk that people hate (do something about that first if you are!) then rest assured that people will be pretty forgiving even — if you do use more verbal fillers than you would have liked.


What Else?

How have you dealt with getting comfortable speaking off the cuff?  What am I missing?  Please add your comments below.