Creative Leadership

Leaders: Get Rid of “Ums” and “Ahs” When You Speak

It’s more important than you realize

Even though I don’t advocate giving advice to people who don’t ask for it, I occasionally can’t help myself and suggest to leaders the benefits of eliminating “fluff” words like “ummm” or “ah” or “you know” when they speak. Without fail, they assure me that they’re either working on it, or that what I heard was just a momentary lapse, and it actually happens very rarely.

But then they go right back to inserting all those words again…

Adding those extra words in conversation or public speaking is far more damaging that most leaders believe, and here’s why:

1. Words like “Ummm” “ahhh” or “you know” indicates hesitation and indecision. It communicates that you’re not sure, you’re looking for the right word, or you just can’t decide. None of those options are good for a leader’s perception.

2. Using those words slows down the conversation. People want to keep the conversation moving and get to the point. If people are helping you finish sentences, that’s a red flag.

3. It’s just bad English. Come on, you’re a leader, and you need to be able to articulate your ideas. If you can’t do that well, then it may be time to step down as a leader. And on that subject, keep in mind that you’re not a leader because of your title or position – you’re a leader because people follow you. The less articulate you become in your speaking, they less likely they are to follow.

OK. I get it. This post is a downer, but it’s necessary. Work on it. Fight it. Focus on your message.

The people you lead deserve better.

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you Phil for this article! When I first started in television and public speaking, I took the effort to learn to remove those things from my speech. Those UMs are the worst and when I hear others, I start counting how many times they do it and I miss their whole message. Keep up the great work as it’s the little things that make a big impact.

  2. Some years back, C. Peter Wagner hired me to ‘boil down’ their ministry school teaching sessions so they could be marketed as a package. Peter, a wonderful fellow, had a significant blind spot in his public delivery…ummms & ahhhs. Almost all of his one hour deliveries, without cutting any content, I condensed from just over an hour to 30 minutes. Literally half of what he said in the classroom was ‘ummmm or aaah!’ By the time I was finished I had his sessions sounding positively fluid! Enjoyed my work with Dr. Wagner. It was, and is, an enjoyable memory.

    1. That’s a great example of how many experienced speakers still do it in their talks. It’s tough to fix, but it’s incredibly important. Thanks for the example Rod!

  3. Phil, any advice on how to overcome the ums? While speaking I’ve been trying to be more cognizant of any of these lapses and instead replace them with a weighty pause for the times when my mind needs to keep up with my mouth.

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