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How to Stop Saying Um: 5 Action Steps

How to Stop Saying Um: 5 Action Steps

This post is all about eradicating the word “um” from your speech. Whether you’re on camera or in person, relying on crutch words is a hard habit to break, but an important one. Below is the video with my action steps. Please keep reading if you prefer text!

We’ve all heard the phrase “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” right?  Do you know how quickly someone formulates their impression of you?

Generally it takes about seven seconds.  Maybe even as short as one second.

If that’s really the case, what’s one way to ensure you’re making a tip top first impression?

Stop saying “um.”  Yes, it’s simple, but not necessarily easy.

And it may be a constant battle. I still catch myself even after years of trying not to.

What’s the big deal you ask? Here are a few reasons to put a stop to the ums.

It’s distracting. When you’re trying to make a point, having these meaningless sounds interrupt your sentences is distracting to the listener.

Your audience may view you as lacking in authority or confidence if you’re using crutch words in between important words.

Whoever you’re talking to may have participated in Toastmasters, which means they are counting how many times you say “um” and “ah.”

They are annoyed and wondering why you haven’t gotten this under control.

You won’t come across as polished, poised or charismatic if “ums” and “ahs” are popping up all over when you speak.

Think of your favorite TED talks or the best speeches you’ve ever heard.

John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address had many memorable lines including this:

“We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Can you imagine if that were laden with ums? It wouldn’t have had the same impact. Not even close.

So how do you stop saying those words?

Like every other bad habit you want to break, it takes work.

And focus.  And concentration. But it can be done.

Do these five things and you’ll be um-less in no time:

  1. Don’t be a lazy talker, even when you’re talking to your dog.

Sometimes people think it’s only important to do a great job speaking when they’re in front of a crowd, at a job interview or some such important affair.

The truth is, if you’re always doing your best to speak without crutch words, then when you really need to impress, you will do just that.

  1. Stop and pause.           

We often say “um” when we’re trying to formulate our next sentence and don’t want to have awkward silence.

Forget about awkwardness because conversations ebb and flow and having a few seconds of silence is perfectly fine.

When you’re figuring out what you’re going to say next, don’t give in to the temptation of using a crutch word. Just pause and focus.

The words will come to mind. You have to train yourself to do this over and over.

  1. Practice speaking to people without saying “um.”

Try this on your next phone call. Perhaps it’s with your cable provider or another service that’s on the fritz.

Challenge yourself to explain the problem to the customer service rep without using any filler words.

Practice this at your next meeting when you’re asked for your opinion. It will become easier the more you do it.

  1. Speak in short and complete sentences.

It’s easy to have “ums” creep in when you are talking in long, run on sentences.

If you speak in short sentences, you’ll get to your point and reduce the chance of adding in a crutch word as a bridge to your next thought.

Plus, no one likes to listen to rambling talkers, so whoever you’re speaking with will appreciate the clarity and the brevity.

  1. Ask family and friends to hold you accountable.

Okay, I realize this sounds like a bit much, but wouldn’t you hate to have to give your friends money every time you said a crutch word?

This will motivate you to stop with the “ums” already.

Ditching “ums” and “ahs” isn’t the easiest habit to break, but you’ll feel much better when you do.

Being a strong communicator is essential for success.

Expressing your ideas clearly and succinctly will help you to be seen as an influential leader.

Plain and simple.


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Hi and welcome! I’m Susan and this website focuses on all aspects of video to get your message out in the world.  For more of my background, please check out my About Page. 🙂


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