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Stop saying Um: How to Improve your Speaking Skills

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

by Stephanie Bickel

What do you think separates a great communicator from a merely good one? Is it their vocabulary? Their body language? Their tone of voice? All of those things are important, of course. One of the most crucial elements of effective communication is something much simpler: the ability to avoid saying "um". As someone who spent decades crafting messages that resonated with millions of people, I can tell you that "um" is a crutch that weakens your words, dilutes your meaning, and erodes your authority. So, today, I want to share with you why it's bad to say "um", and what you can do instead to become a more persuasive, impactful speaker.

by Stephanie Bickel

how to improve your speaking skills

Here are five tips for reducing the use of "um" in your speech:

1. Practice speaking slowly and pausing

One of the main reasons people use "um" is to fill awkward silences or gaps in their speech. By speaking slowly and pausing between thoughts, you can give yourself time to think and avoid the need to use filler words like "um."

2. Plan ahead

Before you start speaking, get the answer in your head first. Take a few minutes to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. This can help you avoid the need to use "um" as you search for the right words.

3. Substitute the verbal filler with a physical filler no one will notice

If you find that you are prone to using "um," see if you can substitute something physical instead of the verbal filler. Insert a purposeful gesture where you would have said "um". Or, you could press your toes into the ground every time you want to say "um". One client liked touching her index finger into her thumb when she wanted to say "um".

4. Practice mindfulness

Pay attention to your language habits and try to be aware of when you are using "um." With practice, you can learn to catch yourself before you say it and find a better way to express yourself.

5. Seek feedback

Ask a friend or colleague to listen to you speak and provide feedback on your use of "um." This can help you identify any specific situations or habits that contribute to your use of the word and give you an opportunity to work on improving your speech.


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