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.