To Erm is Human

When presenting your ideas do you erm often? Speaking at meetings are your views punctuated with umms? Are you aware of the amount of umms and errs that pepper your dialogue? Pruning just a few of them out of your talks can significantly enhance your impact and the influence you exert with the actual content of your subject. Multiple umms can disengage your audience faster than you might realise.

Speaking as I do at a range of events I am very conscious of words, meter, pitch and tone and have spent a lot of time observing others and myself to ensure I maximise the impact of my speech. This has heightened my awareness of recurring words, phrase, in-fills and verbal 'tics' that can frustrate an audience.

I was a regular user of the ‘erm’. A while back, working with a client on their presentation impact, I realised I too was often erming! From that point all I could hear was my own erms. Without beating myself up or cursing, I tuned in to the erms and slowly became able to catch them before I spoke them.

For most people, nerves play a part, as does the time to plan and think through their response. It is not surprising that umms and errs show up more often when you are delivering a unplanned talk; a response to a discussion; or answering an interview question. Concentration, naturally, shifts to the content of your reply, and the points you wish to make. Where a nanosecond of reflection or thought is taking place; preparing the next point or evaluating the point just made mentally, do you fill the air with umms and erms?

A very occasional, strategically placed and toned umm or erm can add impact or communicate considered thought, but as soon as they multiply, it can become all your listeners hear and your influence is obscured or lost.

Now, working with clients on their presentation and communication skills, I often bring attention to how to handle these recurring phrases and begin by highlighting the umm and erm such that they hear their own use of them. By becoming more aware of your own tics – and the same principles can be applied to body language – you can start to control their regularity.

You can do this now with a trusted colleague in low risk situations by asking them to spot your recurring umms and erms.

Once recognised you can work on how to pause and breathe without allowing them to punctuate your speech and soon you will be able to catch them before you speak them and breathe instead.

Your new pauses will give you the same nanoseconds of reflection and preparation, but now will add emphasis to your content and you will come across more succinct and deliberate, with impact.

Good luck and keep it simple.


PS – if your repeating words are anything other than umm or err it can be the same thing, but can also be more involved and require a different upgrading process (e.g. ‘like’, ‘basically’, ‘ok’, ‘so’, ‘yeah’ etc.)

PPS – you can book me to deliver a 60 minute Attitude Boost talk – launching The Attitude Book to your team/group/company during the autumn, use the contact me page at the website to get in touch.