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Eliminating “ums”

One of the most distracting habits during a presentation is when a speaker peppers the presentation with “ums”. It is an unfortunate habit. Speakers are seldom aware of it. Audiences become obsessed with counting it. It’s a nagging problem. And it can be a major distraction in an otherwise decent, intelligent presentation.

So what can you do about it? Firstly, it is not the end of the world. And the good news is that it can be fixed. It’s just a habit.

Speakers use “uhhh” or“um” as a filler. It is often used instead of a pause; a nasty crutch instead of utilizing pacing, breathing and phrasing in a presentation.

I once worked with a brilliant young Policy Adviser at UNDP who caught me totally off guard by using about 200 “ums” in a presentation. I was panicked; how could I ever help her? She was totally unaware of her habit. But when we worked on restructuring the presentation it immediately made a difference. What did we do:

  • Paid attention to her breathing
  • Inserted a structure in her presentation – added organization and flow
  • Emphasized key ideas – landed with commitment on key ideas
  • Worked on pace, phrasing and intention level
  • Add transitions to link messages elegantly

then consciously, deliberately, repetitively

  • Substitute PAUSES for the “ums”

She immediately dropped all the “ums”. It was a transformative session for a lovely speaker.

Now, I want to share with you a simple but effective way to help you eliminate “ums”. Thanks to Brad Phillips for a great technique:

Here’s how it works: Look around the room, and find an object. Don’t think about it. Just find an object, and shout it out. (“Printer!”) 

Now begin speaking about that object for 30 seconds. Time it. You’re not allowed to use “uhhhs” or “ummms,” but you are allowed to briefly pause between sentences. Don’t worry too much about the words you choose—just let them flow.

The key is to surprise yourself with the object, speak aloud for 30 seconds, and replace articulated pauses with silent ones. 

You may not master this skill right away; it takes time, practice, and patience.


The key to eliminating "ums" - Pause

The key to eliminating “ums” – Pause

Photo Credit: <a href=””>danisoul</a> via <a href=””>Compfight</a> <a href=”″>cc</a>


Would you like to be able to deliver a smooth engaging presentation? How can we help you become a more powerful presenter and eliminate any distracting habits?

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