Should you do everything possible to eliminate “ums” and “ahs” from your speaking? Some organizations and public speaking trainers go to great lengths to eradicate them. They charge fines, ring bells, snap rubber bands on wrists, embarrass you publicly and try all sorts of other methods to get you to stop making these filler noises. And yet, some of the greatest speakers of our time “um” and “ah.” For instance, Barrack Obama uses “um” and “ahs” a lot, but most people consider him to be a great orator.
So what should you do about your “ums” and “ahs?”
Here’s my take: If it’s not a distraction, don’t worry about the occasional “um” or “ah.” If you are preparing for a presentation, many of these filler noises will disappear anyway as you practice and become more comfortable with your content. Most people “um” and “ah” as a filler noise when they are trying to think of what to say next. Many speakers are afraid of silence and think every second must be filled with some sort of noise. But as you become more familiar with your content, you will be less concerned with what you’re going to say next. This is one of many reasons practice is important when preparing for a presentation.
If your “ums” and “ahs” are a distraction and aren’t dissipating even after you are familiar with your content, then you can work to eliminate the distraction by first becoming aware when you are doing it and then by concentrating on replacing the filler noises with a pause. It takes time and an intense focus, but you can eliminate these distractions and replace then with pauses. And, as discussed before, pauses can be incredibly powerful.
Being authentic and sincere affects your credibility and credibility is the most important quality to have to communicate effectively. So, relax. Be yourself. Be comfortable. And have fun!
“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.” ~ Lilly Walters
Nervous ticks make you look less confident and make your message seem less credible. If you fiddle with a ring or watch while speaking, simply remove the objects. Likewise, empty change from your pockets. You could try to remember not to fidget with these objects, but you have enough to remember when you are presenting. Remove the distractions, remove the worry.
“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” ~ John Ford
The best speeches are stories. And the best stories are from your heart. The good news for public speakers is these stories don’t have to be memorized because they are your stories.
So, how do you tell a good story that stays on point? Try this storytelling formula:
Introduction (set the scene)
Problem or Conflict
The Outcome or Results (this is the point of the whole thing)
Storytelling is perhaps the most powerful form of communication. So, go on. Speak up and speak from your heart. Talk about what you know about. Talk about what you care about. Talk about your passions. And as always, be yourself and have fun!
“90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.” ~ Somers White
When does a speech begin? Answer: The moment you get the assignment. That’s when you begin the research and the planning for what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Great public speaking doesn’t just happen. A great presentation starts with a solid thesis statement and a well-thought-out outline. Investing the time upfront to develop a thesis and an outline will pay big dividends when you step to the microphone for your presentation.
I first saw legendary comedic actor Don Knotts present this hilarious “hero” speech in the above movie clip when “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” debuted in 1966. I was only 6 years old but even then I could clearly understand how scary it would be to have to go onstage to speak with the entire town looking at you. This movie continues to be one of my all-time favorites and the “hero” speech continues to resonate with me all these many years later.
There are so many mistakes Knott’s character, Luther Heggs, makes in this speech: his poor attempt at humor, his loose leaf script blows away, he has a heckler, the microphone has feedback issues, and he doesn’t know how to stand or how to control his nervous energy. But one thing saves this speech from being an unmitigated disaster: authenticity. Luther Heggs is who he is. His transparency and sincerity shine through in this speech and throughout the movie. He’s genuine and therefore credible. Audiences are very forgiving of mistakes made by sincere speakers. (Spoiler Alert: He beats out a slick rival and gets the girl in the end because of his authenticity.)
Authenticity always has been important in speech-making (and in fact in all communications) but it is even more important in the Digital Age. We’ve grown tired and beyond skepticism of overproduced, slick presentations as evidenced by the success of reality TV, SnapChat, and YouTube. The message that resonated with movie audiences in 1966 that still resonates today is this: be yourself. Atta boy Luther!
I visited a call center once that was operated by the airline I was working for at the time. I noticed that each of the workstations had a mirror mounted near the telephone. As each call center representative prepared to answer an incoming call, they would look briefly into the mirror and smile.
Why do you suppose they did that? That’s right — because it influenced how they felt as they answered the phone and that translated into a more friendly tone for the customer listening on the other end. Their body language was able to trick their own brains. As a result, they were able to offer a better experience for their customers.
We all know that our feelings can influence our body language, but we don’t always recognize that the opposite is equally true – our body language can influences how we feel.
Implications for Public Speaking
So why is this important for a presenter or speaker to know? This is why: If you stand confidently when making a presentation or speech, you will begin to feel more confident. And as your confidence rises, so will your credibility in the eyes of your audience. They audience will react positively to your confidence and that will cause you to become even more energized and even more confident. The effect will begin to snowball.
Make Body Language a Habit
This is the strategy behind social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s “fake it until you make it until you become it.” Or, yet another way we can look at this idea is as the famous Greek philosopher and teacher Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I’m sure Aristotle would agree that confident speaking also can become a habit.
By standing straight, planting our feet shoulders width apart, making appropriate eye contact, smiling, and getting our hands free and our shoulders relaxed so that we can gesture naturally, we can project an air of confidence on the outside and begin to feel more confident on the inside.
Think of it as a Jedi mind trick — on yourself! So, take a look in the mirror and smile — you got this! And may the Force be with you!
“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.” ~Martin Fraquhar Tupper
By Paul Barton
We talked about the power of the pause in Tip No. 2. This video clip of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations is the longest pause I’ve ever heard in a speech. It may be the longest pause ever in a recorded speech. In addition to the 45-second pause, there are some other pauses and rhetorical devices used in this speech. Give it a listen and then let us know what you think.
Putting politics aside, what do you think of this dramatic use of a pause? Is it effective? Please let us know what you think in the comments below.
“The most precious things in speech are the pauses.” – Sir Ralph Richardson
Sometimes, saying nothing at all can speak volumes. A well-timed pause can be one of the most important rhetorical devices in a speaker’s arsenal. So, when should you pause?
Here are two great times to use the power of the pause:
(1) After asking a question. Give the audience times to ponder your questions in their own minds. This will help draw them into what you’re talking about. Imagine hearing a speaker ask: “What are you doing to ensure your family has a safe and secure future?” If the speaker pauses, members of the audiences will likely think about the question and then be curious to hear what the speaker has to say next.
(2) When the audience is reacting. If the audience is applauding, laughing or otherwise reacting to your words, pause for a moment. Don’t walk on your adulation. Savor the moment! Don’t start talking until the audience has finished reacting. If they are reacting, they are engaged. Don’t cut their engagement short. If you do start speaking, the audience won’t be able to clearly hear what you’re going to say next and you’ll lose the opportunity to fully engage them. If you pause, it allows those who are applauding or laughing to fully engage in the moment. A pause also will allow members of the audience who may not be applauding or laughing to hear those who are reacting and that just might help draw them into the speech.
When it’s done correctly, a pause can move an audience in a unique way. Give it a try and see how the sounds of silence can work for you.
How do you deliver a well-organized and powerful presentation without reading from a bunch of notes? Answer: Memorize your speech outline, not a script. Memorizing your outline will help you stay on point and allow you to deliver your presentation hands-free.
Every presentation should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. There are many sub-components you could add to each of those sections. Following is a sample speech outline that works for many types of presentations.
Sample Speech Outline
Hook (attention grabber)
Verbal Roadmap: “Today we are going to talk about three key points …”
Summary: “Here’s what we covered today …”
Call to Action: “I challenge and encourage you to …”
Outcome: “And when we do this together, we will all live in a better world.”
By learning to speak unscripted, you will look more natural, be more compelling, have more credibility, and exude more confidence. And when you do, you will deliver more persuasive presentations.
Few of us are ever going to find ourselves at a podium ready to deliver a major speech to thousands of people. But all of us communicate every day in countless ways. How well we communicate in everyday situations makes a big difference in how successful we are in our professional and personal lives. Studies show that communication is the No. 1 business skill for business leaders.
If you think about it, life is a series of presentations. You are always presenting yourself. Most of your presentations are unscripted and most of them are intended to be persuasive. You want to make a favorable impression and you want your audience to see things your way. Making a good impression starts with the basics — things like shaking hands, introducing yourself, and exchanging business cards. The art of persuasion is often best done in the form of storytelling, perhaps the most powerful way to communicate.
When done correctly, everyday business interactions can have a powerful effect. But few people have ever been taught how to master these simple but powerful business basics. And most people underestimate the importance of these interactions and settle for “good enough.” As a result, their names are quickly forgotten, their business cards get tossed away, and their poorly constructed stories are ignored.
However, mastering ordinary business situations can have extraordinary results on your career. This blog, and the workshops and personal coaching sessions we offer are designed to help you gain the confidence to speak up and discover the skills to stand out in all situations. Our hope is to create a supportive community here where we can learn from each other and cheer each other on. We’ll offer easy-to-remember tips, tricks, and techniques that you can apply right away. In return, we want to hear your comments, suggestions, and personal experiences. Please join us by signing up for our email list. This just might be a small start to something big!