Say Goodbye to Verbal Crutches: How to Speak and Present More Fluidly
Uh oh. The dreaded uh slipped out of again. Particularly when you start your speech, this and other filler words can make you sound insecure and a little unprofessional. Almost as if you didn’t prepare enough for your speech.
That’s not to say that filler words are strictly forbidden. Sometimes a well-timed ah or um can give the listener time to better process what is being said. On the other hand, sentences that are riddled with these verbal crutches distract from the actual message. One ah too many, and you may find the credibility of your content is in jeopardy.
There are people who can speak fluidly right off the cuff. But not every speaker is born with this talent. Instead, the heart starts racing, palms get clammy and you suddenly find a frog lodged directly in your throat. So that the words don’t literally get stuck in the throat, excellent preparation for the speech can work wonders. Although one can never totally get rid of the nerves, excellent preparation can do wonders to banish any fear of failure.
Experts in behavioral science research have made the effort to explore the effects of filler words in more detail. How much does a less fluid way of speaking affect the speaker and how can you avoid filler words in a presentation?
What are the disadvantages of filler words?
Speaking fluidly is not as easy as you might think. Whether at school, in the lecture hall, at meetings in the office or during presentations in seminars, we’re always trying to captivate our listeners.
Too many filler words weaken the message that we’re trying to communicate. They can even cause ambiguity and confusion. Too many filler words always have a negative effect.
- It becomes harder to convey a clear and distinct message.
- Significant research results or groundbreaking advances lose their impact and can almost get lost among too many filler words.
- The emotional aspect of the presentation is lost on the audience.
- The audience becomes restless and disconnects quickly.
- Disinterest increases and the listeners no longer want to make the effort to filter out the most important statements.
- The presenter doesn’t appear competent or authentic and is unable to engage the audience.
- A natural and relaxed atmosphere is missing.
- The listeners perceive the presenter as nervous, distracted or even worse, disinterested.
Fortunately, filler words can be turned into strengths. We’ll show you how in the following paragraph.
Pauses can help
Our natural speech pattern is filled with pauses. Research has found that pauses in conversations occur very frequently. There are three categories of pauses: short, medium and long pauses. A short pause lasts 0.2 seconds, a medium pause 0.6 seconds and a long pause lasts more than one second. Really good speakers are able to keep silent for two to three seconds at a time, and even longer.
But not all presenters and speakers are comfortable with this. A short pause on stage can feel like a lifetime. Why is that? There’ s a very simple explanation: we think faster than we speak. On average, an adult speaks 150 words per minute. There are other studies, such as that from the University of Missouri, which show that there are people who think as much as 400 words per minute.
There’s even talk of 1,500 words per minute. This means that in a presenter’ mind, a pause gets distorted. It feels like forever to the speaker. For the audience, however, it was only a few seconds.
Learning to build in pauses at the right times has an incredible positive effect on your speech and presentation.
If you find yourself losing your footing during your speech, a short pause can help you gather your thoughts and get back on track. And don’t worry that it will distract your audience; a pause of less than 5 seconds is hardly ever noticed.
Short pauses are also a great way to calm your nerves. When your heart’s beating a mile a minute and you’re tripping over your words, take a short pause. Use the time to inhale and exhale deeply. This mini time out will refocus you.
You can even build anticipation and interest with strategically placed pauses. Pausing before a point you want to emphasize is a great way to pique the audience’s curiosity. And don’t forget a short pause after your statement; your audience will need a little time to absorb what you just said.
In short, a small amount of filler words and pauses make the speaker appear under control. Too many, on the other hand, have the opposite effect.
How can word crutches be avoided?
There are in fact ways of putting the unpleasant ahs, errs and ums back in their place. The first step is analyzing your own speech habits. The first step is analyzing your own speech habits. Which filler words do you actually use and how often? TO get to the bottom of this, try recording yourself talking. You could make a video, an audio recording or simply use your phone.
The longer the recording, the more insight you will gain. But friends, colleagues and family can also be helpful in identifying our verbal crutches. Try incorporating deliberate actions to break the habit. If you catch yourself saying “uh” again, tap your leg. Another option is for a friend or colleague to point out your habit by clapping their hands or snapping their fingers.
When you realize you’re about to use filler words, be silent for a moment. It may take a bit of time to break the habit but stick with it and you’ll soon see a change.
Another method is to use shorter sentences. The chaotic structure of complicated main and subordinate clauses can often prompt us to use filler words. Revise convoluted sentences and rely instead on short and concise statements. This approach makes it much easier to present fluently.
Filler words in small doses are completely okay. They not only give the speaker practical pauses for thought, but also help the listener digest what has been said. But if verbal crutches gain the upper hand and become a genuine habit, then you’ll need to make some changes.
Too many delays and awkward sounds can grate on the audience’s nerves and the speaker makes a less-than-confident impression. Filler words also reduce the impact of your content. With a video or audio recording, you can get to the bottom of your crutch words.
Listen carefully to your recordings and analyze your communication behavior and language. When possible, always rehearse your presentation, speech or lecture in front of a small audience. Work with short and clear sentences. A moderate speaking speed can also work wonders. And if you do filler words, use them effectively and economically.