I must confess that I’m not the greatest public speaker in the world. I’m entirely too self-conscious, and much more comfortable deep inside my own head. I have told a few stories in public, though. (You can hear some of them here.)

While I’d enjoy being able to speak on TED Talk level, I don’t ever see that happening. Someday I would like to speak at Ignite Seattle, though. I’ve already got an idea in mind. I’m just working up the courage to submit it.

A few friends have told me that I should join Toastmasters to brush up on my public speaking skills. That idea has always left me cold. No offense, but I’ve always felt that Toastmasters are the bullies of the public speaking world.

At Toastmasters, your audience is always critical. That’s why they’re there. They want to help you improve. But that means you’re operating from a standpoint that you need improvement. Whether that’s true or not, it’s not a place where I want to dwell.

One person in the audience is even a designated “Ah Counter”. They click this loud thing every time you say uh, or ah, or um. I don’t know about you, but if I’m on a roll, telling a story, the last thing I want to hear is a loud dog-training device that says, in this context, “You suck!” So I won’t be “toastmastering” any time soon.

Granted, it is annoying when someone says um every few seconds. It makes me think they’re not very well prepared. If they aren’t putting in the effort to speak, then why should I put in the effort to listen? But I’m not an um Nazi. I don’t think every single um is a crime. I don’t even find it particularly distracting within reason.

Recently I read this article, which seems to back up my thoughts on this subject. In fact, it says that ums focus the listener’s attention, increase memory of the conversation, and enhance comprehension of the subject matter.

It also says, basically, that most of us, when we start a sentence, haven’t planned how that sentence will end, especially if it has complex construction (like this one). If we did, there’d be this pause between each sentence so you could formulate it. That would get annoying. A well-placed uh allows your brain to catch up with your voice, and it’s also often a signal to the listener that what you’re about to say will be of particular importance, because you’re taking special care to articulate your thought.

I found this article particularly fascinating because it posits that those who are experts in their field tend to say ah more, because their brain is having to sift through a lot more information before holding forth on their particular area of expertise. It also says that no one used to care about these speech disfluencies until the advent of recordings.

I have to admit, it is rather horrifying to hear one of my speeches, with all its hesitations. But, um… I guess it’s part of my charm.


Read any good books lately? Try mine!

10 thoughts on “Um…

  1. lyn sutton

    Brace yourself! What about um…you know? If I already know, then why should I, um…you know…continue to listen to someones attempts to, ah… you know… elucidate me? It’s irritating in everyday conversations but in a formal address it can, um…you know…kill the message unless your whole intent is to, ah…you know… preach to the choir who already know, um…you know? Jeez, I’m tearing my hair out and I’m the one writing this. Sorry. 🙂

      1. lyn sutton

        I’m very patient. I won’t interrupt to give you the word or try and finish your thought even if I know it. I can relate due to cognitive damage from medication side effects which creates times when the words are nowhere near my tongue. No amount of well-placed uh’s will allow this brain to catch up or find the words. I usually stop and admit I’m lost because most people don’t have patience with me when I struggle. They’re used to my usual articulate fluid speech. It also effects my writing so I have to proof read and edit before I post a simple comment. This one took over 20 minutes to do 3 rewrites. Can you imagine me trying to write a daily blog?

      2. Yes, I can imagine it! It would take a lot of work, but the reward for your readers would be great. I write most of my posts 10 days in advance. That gives me at least 10 more opportunities to proof read, which means what you finally see is often a lot different than what I originally wrote.

  2. I KNEW you would be talking about Toastmasters with that title. I was in it for years, and then ‘retired’. There is an Ah counter, but no there is no clicker or noise. His or her job is to let you know what filler words you use. As a trainer who speaks all the time, I had NO idea how many fillers I did, the Ah counter is a good thing.

    Plus for new kids, they take pity, they want you to succeed. And it can be fun. If you ever get the urge to go to a meeting I would be happy to introduce you to a friend of mine, Sandy, who lives and breathes Toasters. If you went, I cannot say you would be a TED talker, but I will say you will overcome any fear of talking…

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