Stopping the UMMMS: Advice from Quills and Quotes

Link to article: Stopping the UMMMS


Do you have a bad case of the “umms”? Despite planning, preparing and practicing your speech, you just can’t seem to avoid filling your speech with “umm,” “uhh,” “right” or “you know.”

So how do you kick this speech-killing habit? Rest assured, there are proven and effective methods to cure the “umms.”


1) Be Cognitively Aware of the Problem

To stop your brain from performing an action, you must realize you are committing the action. The “umms” are often subconscious, the speaker is often not aware they are using the redundant fillers, and they definitely don’t realize how often they use them. To identify the problem for your brain, videotape your speech and count the number of times you use a filler word. You can also have a friend listen to your speech and signal you each time you use the filler word, either with a snap or a visual cue. You will find that your friend’s constant snapping is irritating anddistracting, but think how annoying it is for an audience to hear a speech full of “umms.”


It is important to realize that speakers who regularly pepper their public speeches with “umms,” likely also use the filler words in group or class discussion. Since the “umms” downgrade one’s authority, they are an action worth stopping.


2) Re-train Your Brain

Now that your brain realizes you “umm,” train your brain to perform a positive or helpful action instead. People tend to “umm” when their thoughts outrun their vocalization or the opposite, they’ve forgotten their next thought. In both cases, a pause is needed for the brain to reset or catch-up.


So, when you feel an “umm” rising in your throat, pause instead. Pausing will take practice, as your brain naturally leans on “umming” to fill speech gaps when presenting, so it will require persistence to re-program it to embrace the gaps instead.


Shauna Jain, director of the children’s public speaking program Quills and Quotes says, “umming may feel natural, but it lacks eloquence, whereas pausing shows thoughtfulness and can bring clarity to a speech.” She reminds people, “the key to pausing is to make it seem purposeful, walk a little, smile, or adopt a thoughtful stance as if encouraging the audience to consider your last words.” While pausing, gather your thoughts and reset your thoughts. Pause, think, continue.


3) Zone in on Problem Points

When identifying your “umm” habit, pay particular attention to when you “umm.”Is it at the beginning of your speech? If so, this may be part of anxiety over public speaking. Work extra hard on practicing your introduction, and view the tips on “Quashing Public Speaking Anxiety,” on the Quills and Quotes website, www.quillsandquotes.ca.


Do you tend to use speech redundancies at transition points in your speech? If so, make sure to write and memorize effective transition phrases at those points in your speech. Use gestures to guide the audience through those transitions.


Do you tend to “umm” at the end or beginning of each sentence? Again, this indicates an issue with transitioning your thoughts. Slow down and pause between complex thoughts.


Is there a more challenging part of your speech that you have trouble memorizing, that you tend to stumble over? Pay special attention to this area when rehearsing or have a more detailed cue card on hand to feel at ease when it comes to this point in the speech.


Despite all these techniques, if you still can’t shake the “umms,” consider enrolling in a public speaking class offered by Quills and Quotes. Programs like these give participants the practice and real-time feedback they need to combat speech-butchering filler words.

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Head Office: 10 Rosewood Avenue, Mississauga, ON, L5G 3H9  

Phone: 647-985-3711

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