How to eliminate ‘ums’ & ‘ahs’ in 3 easy steps
The other day I asked my 2 year old (Zara) what she wanted for dinner.
She paused as if thinking about it deeply, then said in a very deliberate tone “ummmmmmm….. I want eggs, pu-lease mummy”
Now, what she chose for dinner wasn’t what I’m commenting on.
It’s more the fact that someone as young as 2 can pick up the bad habit of ums and ahs!!
I honestly couldn’t believe my ears!!!!
But it got me thinking. About how easy it is to pick-up these filler words. But on the flip-side, (especially if you’ve picked it up from this age), how hard it can be to simply just ‘stop’!
So, I thought this was a great reminder to share the tips I have on how to actually stop saying filler words.
As it’s a pesky habit that can absolutely reduce your credibility, your level of authority and your level of influence!
Also, I did a poll on Twitter and Instagram about a year ago on this asking people if ums and ahs from a speaker bothered them, or if they don’t really notice them (as I was curious).
I know I notice them, but I wasn’t sure if that was because I’m almost looking for them!
So what were the results?
The majority of people find them really distracting.
I got rid of filler words years ago whilst I was doing Toastmasters and I want to share with you how I was able to get rid of them quite quickly.
So, if you’d love to … ah stop saying ums and ahs, this Article is for you!
1. BECOME AWARE
I remember one of my first sessions at Toastmasters where they counted my ums and ahs. At the end of my speech they told me how many I’d used. It was something in the 30s…….!!!
Say what!? I was soooo surprised that I’d said THAT many. It was funny thinking i’d been talking like that for years potentially, without even realizing it!
But once you’re aware, you can do something about it.
So, the first thing you must do is either get someone else to count them for you, or record yourself and count them on your own.
One recommendation though – count them when the stakes are high (like when you’re giving a presentation), but also count them when the stakes are low (like having a conversation with a friend).
I’ll almost guarantee that if you do you pauses, you will use them in all types of situations.
2. REPLACE IT WITH A PAUSE
Now, if you’ve ever tried to just stop saying ums and ahs, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s not that easy. Or at least it certainly wasn’t for me.
I was also aware that if you ever want to break any (bad) habit, it’s very hard to completely STOP it. The key is to replace it with something else.
As a habit is generally triggered by something and fills some sort of need.
So, instead of just trying to stop saying ums and ahs, you must replace it with a pause.
Let me illustrate what I mean here:
Trigger >> Habit
In this case, our Trigger and Habit is as follows:
Thinking of what to say >> Using an um or ah to fill the space
What we want is to replace that with a New Habit.
Trigger >> New Habit
In our case that looks like this:
Thinking of what to say >> Using a pause to fill the space
That will give your mind time to catchup and then you can keep talking!!
3. DO IT IN GENERAL CONVERSATION
At the time (that I wanted to eliminate ums and ahs), I wasn’t presenting every day. So I knew my ability to put my new ‘habit’ into practise was limited.
However, I realised that I actually used filler words in my day-to-day conversation and as such, I should focus there first.
The amazing thing was, once I was able to use the power of a pause in my general day to day conversations (on the phone, at home, out at the shops etc), it didn’t come back once I started a presentation.
Now it wasn’t as simple as notice them, replace them, gone straight away.
There was a lot of “oh god, I just said an um” where I would catch myself after the fact. But it didn’t take long for that to change.
In fact, I was able to completely eliminate filler words in a matter of days using this approach.
It proved to me that you either say filler words (in all situations) or you don’t at all. There’s no grey area here and that’s because it’s an unconscious habit that you either have or you don’t.
So, to summarise, there’s ALWAYS going to be cases where your mind needs a little extra time to catchup, in order to get the right words out.
My question to you is – do you want to use an um/ah to fill that space, or a pause? The choice is yours!!
If you’ve chosen the latter, if stick to the approach I’ve listed above, you’ll get rid of them in no time.
P.S. If you want a complete overhall of the way you present, beyond just the ums and ahs, then join my signature 10 Week Powerful Presenter Group Program. It’s perfect for people in Tech who want to learn how to present with clarity, impact and confidence. We start Thu 17 Feb. Check out more details here. If you have any qs, just send me a DM.
Emily Edgeley is a Public Speaking Coach for the Technology industry. Since 2017 she’s run over 100 group coaching sessions, coached more than 200 people privately and formally supported first time and experienced speakers at 10 Conferences, covering 1000+ people across the globe.
She’s on a mission to help anyone in the Tech arena learn how to speak with clarity, impact and confidence. So they can share their ideas, boost their brand and start to enjoy public speaking.
She’s also a regular podcast guest, a writer, a single mum of one, a massive dog lover and a fan of cryptic crosswords.
Emily Edgeley | PUBLIC SPEAKING COACH | www.emilyedgeley.com