The above paragraph is an example of how far too many conversations sound when you listen back to them. I attend many meetings and I have many conversations with people, and it is truly unbearable to hear people speak when they have not properly thought through what they are trying to say before saying it.
The truth is that most people think their speech sounds like a Shakespearean sonnet, but in reality, it’s like what a non-Phish fan hears when they listen to Phish. It’s painful and meandering and totally lacking in melody.
Too many of the words people use are “filler,” meaning they’re used to fill the moment while you think of what you should say next. Rather than relying on filler words, take a pause.
A pause creates a dramatic element that serves to refocus your listener. A pause also allows the brain to catch up and implies that what you are going to say next is important.
How you speak and communicate your ideas is the way you present yourself to others. If you do not take the time to formulate your ideas, it looks like you're not detail-oriented and you have not taken the time to adequately prepare. Neither of these impressions are good for your career.
I think we can all agree that you want your audience to see you in a more positive, thoughtful light. To fix the problem, you need only do three things:
1. Slow down to allow your brain and your mouth to be more aligned. Your brain can develop the thought and you can formulate a way to express yourself without adding filler words that simply prolong the time you allow your brain to think.
2. Drop the filler words completely. It’s not easy at first, but you have to drop the crutch of the “um,” “yeah,” “you know” and “right” from any presentations or formal speaking you do.
Imagine what your presentation looks like on paper with those words included. Refer back to the first paragraph of this column as an example. They are unnecessary and jarring when you read them. They are not much better when you say them, because they detract from your ability to make a point.
3. Record yourself and listen back to the recording. You will be surprised and maybe even a little appalled at just how much you lean on these fillers in your speech.
The best way to fix your speech is to grade it. Listen back and write a checkmark for every time you use one of these fillers in a five-minute window. I once did this for a colleague who was in a position of leadership, and who said “um” 170 times in five minutes. Needless to say, he immediately moved to fix this issue.
The single most impactful way to succeed is to be able to express your opinions in a clear, succinct manner. You want to portray yourself as intelligent, thoughtful and considered. Taking the three steps above will have an immediate impact on the way people perceive you at work.