Eliminate "Uhhhs" and "Umms" (Part One)

“Like, I don’t know, the movie was, like, good, I guess, but, like, it wasn’t awesome, you know?”

Do you know that teenager? If you’ve ever had one, raised one, or stood next to one in a shopping mall, you probably do.

That type of verbal filler is common in teens, but adults are guilty of it too. How many media spokespersons have you seen who fill their interviews with “uhhhs,” “ummmms,” “you knows,” “likes,” and “you know what I’m sayings?”

You may remember a particularly dreadful example of verbal filler when Caroline Kennedy was briefly considered to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat last year. Her interviews were loaded with “you knows,” as the press was all-too-happy to point out.

According to The New York Times, she used the phrase “you know” 138 times during one interview, and 12 times in less than a minute.

Before providing you with a couple of tips to combat verbal filler, it’s important to note that almost everyone uses some verbal filler in their speech – and that’s okay. It only becomes a problem when it distracts an audience. So don’t judge yourself on a scale of perfection. If you utter a few “uhhs,” you’re fine. If they litter your speech, try the two techniques I’ll describe today and Friday.

The first technique deals with verbal filler that occurs at the beginning of an answer. That “articulated pause” is understandable, since you likely haven’t formed your complete thought yet.

Instead of speaking immediately, give yourself a moment to structure your answer by pausing before you deliver it. A short pause is less distracting to an audience than an articulated pause.

It’s even easier if the interview isn’t live. The audience will rarely see your pauses in an edited interview, so take your time before answering a question – even if that means you pause for 10 or 15 seconds. That tactic not only helps eliminate verbal filler, but allows you to think of a better answer that concisely articulates your main message.

If the interview is live, you obviously can’t pause for quite as long – but taking a one-second beat to think is okay (the audience is often accustomed to a delay anyway, so they often won’t know the difference). Just be careful if you’re entering a hostile interview, where the pauses can be edited against you, as they were in Ms. Kennedy’s case.

Click here to see part two of this series, which will teach you a 30-second exercise to help you extinguish the “uhhs” and “umms” forever.