I’m here with some good news for most presenters—along with some cautions you’ve probably never thought about.
The Good News: “Ums” Won’t Kill You
Speakers, don’t worry so much about using fillers like “um” and “uh. ” These only become problematic when other distracting factors are in play. Your audience will only notice your “ums” if:
- You haven’t practiced, so you don’t know where you’re going next.
- You don’t enunciate clearly.
- You don’t exude enthusiasm about your subject.
To some degree, a speaker’s occasional “um” gives the listeners’ brains an opportunity to catch up—we can speak faster than we can listen. Michael Erard, bestselling author of UM…Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean sums it all up by saying: “Want people not to notice your ‘um’s’? Be interesting.”
The Caution: Three Words to Weaken Your Presentation
Some words we use to strengthen our presentations paradoxically weaken them instead. Which example below sounds more powerful?
I love you.
I actually love you.
I recall watching a woman presenter, extremely confident in most situations, speaking to a hostile and primarily male group. Not only was this group opposed to her message, it had the power to sway mass opinion throughout the organization.
To my surprise, this usually dynamic speaker came off extremely unconfidently. Her voice, dress, and manner were the same as usual, but I noticed that she used the word “actually” in nearly every other sentence. Unconsciously, she was attempting to ingratiate herself to this powerful audience.
Research by Erickson, Eind, Johnson and O’Barrr discovered that a few specific words deprive a speaker of power. Surprisingly, we often use these words to underline or “pump up” the importance of our message. By over-reinforcing our message, we seem to be “protesting too much.” Our credibility takes a hit.
These words are:
Really, (really) As in: “It’s really, really a good cause.”
Truly, As in: “It’s truly the best software.”
And, or course, actually.
Watch your use of these words, particularly when faced with an audience that challenges you. Strip them out, and your speech will be more powerful, direct, and credible.