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!