Um, er and the art of the pause

How ums can damage your brand – and what to do about them

Um, er, like, y’know, sort of, so – these meaningless filler words are as annoying as litter on the landscape.

It’s a confidence issue – we produce a ‘thinking noise’, as if we’re scared that if we stop making noise, they’ll stop listening.

It’s a habit – it’s just what we usually do, and habits can be hard to change.

And it’s an awareness issue – we seldom know we’re doing it until someone tells us.

The problem is, it can make a speaker seem uncertain, unprepared and anxious about their message, which damages their credibility.

It can disconcert and irritate an audience, who may even start keeping score with a five bar gate. Now you’ve lost them – their attention has so completely fixed onto logging the ums, they’ve stopped listening to what you’re saying.

Be mindful of your audience. They’re the most important thing in the room; not you, the PowerPoint or the message. They need to like, trust and understand you before they’ll pay attention to your message, and it’s your job to ensure they can.

Listen to effective speakers presenting TED talks on You Tube, and you’ll probably find they’ve mastered the art of the pause.

Good things happen in those pauses.

You’re taking a moment to refuel with air and maybe a sip of water. This helps clarify your mind, giving you a moment to collect your thoughts, plus that quiet focus on clearly saying your next sentence can only improve your voice.

Pausing instead of umming and erring will allow the audience time to think, digest what you’ve said and keep up with you.

To help you become more self aware of the impact you’re having on your audience, practice reading aloud and making yourself pause at the full stops and commas.

Try recording yourself reading aloud, and when you’re practising your presentations.

Get used to hearing yourself allowing the pauses, hear how natural you sound – and how much more engaging and credible. Losing the meaningless noises and allowing the powerful pause can become a habit that will improve your personal brand.

Philippa Hammond