Uh, Um, You Know…Actually, We Don’t

You hear them every day: they’re sort of … like … totally … sort of, I mean … Um, uh … ya know … the wishy-washy kinds of words that people unconsciously use to punctuate their speech, both at work and in social situations. The thing is, good speakers avoid filler words like the plague, knowing that they instantly and irrevocably erode away one’s credibility. Filler words are not definitive – they’re weak. They completely diminish the power of the ideas you are trying to impart to your audience.

I’ve previously shared the example of Caroline Kennedy. Before her current position as the US Ambassador to Japan, Kennedy ran for New York’s junior senator position in 2008. It became clear quickly that speaking to the media unscripted wasn’t her strength. In fact, it was so evident that multiple newsgroups began sharing their interview transcripts, each tallying up how many “ums”, “you knows”, and “uhs” she used. It wasn’t pretty.

Kennedy was accomplished and came from an accomplished family – she went on to do more notable things; however, these speaking engagements with several outlets (along with other factors) no doubt had an effect on her eventual decision to withdraw from that race.

The use of filler words leaves your audience wondering if you know what you’re talking about – the result being a decrease in their confidence in you and your message.

Think about how you talk in everyday conversation (and subsequently in your presentations). Most of us use filler and empty words without even realizing it, and yet we are very aware and judgmental of others who are mired down with these communication flaws. Ultimately, the standard you place on others applies to you as well: why would anyone follow you anywhere with weak, insecure words? Why would people buy what you are selling? In order to become a leader and inspire action, you need to project strength and confidence.

This strength has to be communicated, first and foremost by the words you use.

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