I recently started doing more public speaking at work, and was so proud of myself for going out of my comfort zone that I emailed one livestream to my friends and family. While I got quite a few “congratulations,” I also got the following feedback: “You need to work on saying ‘um’ and ‘like’ less.”
Was my ego stung? Sure. Would I have preferred people to respond with, “Wow! Move over Oprah, there’s a new inspiration in town!” Of course! But that doesn’t mean it was bad advice—and as a result of getting it, I’ve been actively working on improving.
After all, I certainly don’t go into my speeches prepared to toss in an “um” every five seconds. So, my first stop on the self-improvement train was figuring out why I end up using these filler words so much.
It’s a simpler answer than you’d think, according to Quantified Communications CEO Noah Zandan who discusses this in the Harvard Business Review:
Pauses aren’t easy to embrace. For many speakers, even the briefest pause can feel like an interminable silence. That’s because we tend to think faster than we speak. According to our research, the average professional speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute. Yet, according to research from Missouri University, we think at 400 words per minute (and depending on who you ask, the rate may be as high as 1,500 words per minute). Because of this discrepancy, when you’re giving a speech, your perception of time is often distorted, and what feels like an eternity in your mind is actually a few short seconds for the audience.
That made sense and knowing it made me feel a little bit better. The next step? Learning what I could do about it.
In the same article, Zandan suggests learning how to slow down and sit with my pauses, even if they’re uncomfortable: “The first step in changing any habit—whether it’s biting your nails or peppering every sentence with ‘you know’—is awareness.”
Pretty easy, right? So that’s what I’m working on now—being more aware of when I’m uncomfortable and just, well, sitting with it.
If this sounds familiar to you (and sitting with it doesn’t do the trick), here are a few more resources you might like:
- This Free App Will Make You a Better, More Confident Speaker
- 5 Ways to Remove Like From Your Vocabulary
- How to Get Over Your Public Speaking Fear for Good
Photo of person talking in meeting courtesy of Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch/Getty Images.
As an Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author