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Silence is Golden! Leave out the interjections uh, um and mm!

Interjections are the non-productive words and sounds (uh, um, mm) many of us use as we are preparing to speak. Interjections are very common, and even the best speakers may use them unconsciously. They become a problem when they are very frequent and occur at an important point in a communication.

If you were to say “I’m delighted to be here and I really want to make this um, a regular event,” you’re inadvertently suggesting insincerity or uncertainty.  If you begin a communication with an interjection, you may come across as ill-prepared or uncomfortable.  These are the listener’s perceptions and may have no relation to the reality, but ultimately the perception is what counts.

The technique for reducing interjections in your speech is not complicated but it does require some effort to create a new habit.

To start with, you need to become aware of the use of interjections. Do you begin many presentations, meetings, or phone conversations with an interjection? Do you regularly use the interjections when you are between thoughts or creating an argument?  The way to find out isn’t always easy: You must listen to yourself, make recordings for later review and ask others to observe you and give you feedback.

When you become aware that you’re making these unintended interjections, you’ll often find you become self-conscious and make even more, which may well leave you feeling quite frustrated.  This is normal; be patient and trust in the process.

The next step is to use formal or controlled communication, such as when you make a presentation, leave a voice mail or start a meeting, to practice a new skill.  Think of the first words you’ll say.  When you have those opening words in your head, you’re more likely to begin with real words and thoughts rather than non-productive and distracting vocalizations.

Second, similar to the technique used to help rapid speakers slow down, you need to work on being able to “hear” silence.  You may have become used to filling the space between ideas with an unconscious “um” or “uh.” It will feel uncomfortable at first to have what seem like long silent pauses but you’ll soon become used to them and see just how much more effective a moment of silence is than a meaningless interjection.

You will find this and other useful tips in Your Voice Matters by Elizabeth Hunt.

Your Voice Matters by Elizabeth Hunt

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