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ENDING THE “UMS”
By Art Samansky

Speakers consciously or unconsciously often use too many meaningless words or phrases as a “thought-to-come pause” (TTCP) to give them thinking time before responding to a question or while in the middle of a comment.

These “sounds” and “phrases” include, among others: um… well… look… so… like… you know… ahh… and uhh. They can be annoying to the listener. Worse, they may take away from the authority of the speaker by causing listeners to believe the speaker is unsure of, or even faking, a response.

What causes TTCPs? Many things. Sometimes, a combination of factors. Prime among them:

  • Failure to concentrate
  • Not taking breaths between sentences or phrases
  • Speaking too quickly
  • Nervousness
  • Lack of question-and-answer practice for an interview, panel, or post-speech question and answer session
  • Insufficient familiarity with an institutionís messages, beliefs or views
  • Little pre-interview (pre-speech) thought to the key points the speaker would like to make
  • Failure to be fully familiar with presentation bulletpoints/script
  • Undue concern about even momentary silence

Each of these can be fixed, and most can be fixed easily.

Excluding special situations, speakers also should routinely and silently take about two seconds--thatís generally all thatís needed--to gather a thought and begin verbalizing it. Speakers should do this no matter how simple the question might seem. That brief pause is virtually unnoticeable--as opposed to a pause of five seconds or more, which can portray an “I-wasnít-expecting-that!” image. Even if the silent brief pause is noticed by some, at worst the speaker will seem thoughtful.

Routine use of the silent-pause will become habit-forming and, coupled with the other adjustments, can help significantly reduce TTCPs, if not make them disappear entirely.