*Meme edition! ** Public speaking generally isn’t the most exciting subject, so enjoy some memes sprinkled throughout to drive home my points.
I am not a natural public speaker. Far from it.
My first time speaking in front of more than 10 people was a crash and burn of epic proportions.
I recall the organizer saying, “it’s okay, Casey.“ (only my mother calls me Casey… so let that be an indication of how it went)
Trust me. That is never something you want to hear when addressing a larger crowd or group of people, whether in person or on the radio.
But that was the old me!
The new me is a confident speaker. I am fortunate to get paid to speak and am invited to be on the radio, TV, etc. But it wasn’t an easy climb.
Looking back, this change came about because of a one pretty simple change I made.
It wasn’t some self-help book, a power stance or some self-affirmation mantra. It wasn’t some cool memorization technique or way to connect with an audience.
It was simply getting rid of the word um. I stopped saying um and totally removed it from my vocabulary.
Um has plagued me since I was young. Using it as a placeholder to avoid awkward silences, as a way to transition when speaking, or simply as a stalling tactic while I figured out what to say next, it is something I have always leaned on.
It’s just a bad habit, but what’s the deal?
What I didn’t realize was the limiting effect it was having not only on my speaking ability but even more so on my overall confidence. It wasn’t until two years ago when I was on a local Chicago radio station that I really came to realize this.
After the interview (which I thought went okay, but not great), I replayed the interview. Listening to that interview was the most cringe-worthy 30 minutes in recent memory. The sheer repetitiveness of um was almost comical. But, more than that, the more I used the word um, the more I came off as lacking confidence and teetering in delivery. Even when I wasn’t using um, this lasting effect still seemed to maintain its hold on me.
Using um was as much a cause of as it was an effect on my speaking woes. It was the output from my nerves and lack of confidence. It was also the habit that was reinforcing my nervousness. Round and round I went.
Um is an average word! It had to go!
Here are 6 ways I learned to stop saying um and how I became a more confident public speaker, motivator and salesperson.
1. Pump the breaks!
Slow down. This was and continues to be the most effective technique I have adopted.
I tend to naturally speak a mile a minute and public speaking only exacerbates this for me. If you are unsure how you are going to end your sentence, you are probably speaking too fast.
Slow down and formulate your words and sentences before mouthing them
Think about how slowly and methodically some of the most renowned public speakers go.
Obama is a great example. Think about how slowly and methodically he speaks.
2. Shh! Don’t say anything!
Have you ever been on a date and you both are still new and somewhat uncomfortable around each other that you dread silence and will do anything to fill that gap, no matter the topic?
It’s the same way with um. You are using it as a crutch to avoid a potential silence.
Embrace the silence!
Instead of turning to your um crutch, simply say nothing at all. Pause and move on.
To me, a speaker who uses silence comes off as extremely confident and knowledgeable.
I know this is easier said than done as to you, silence will seem to last an eternity, but it doesn’t come off that way. Silence is a powerful tool in a speaker’s arsenal.
Associate your um with confidence.
ummm not too sure how to begin this next sentence, but here I go anyway.”
Pause for a moment and proceed. Much better than um.
Even better than using pauses and spacing to simply take place of your um crutch, use this creative “white space” for emphasis and delivery.
Silence can be just as powerful as the words themselves. Use it to great effect.
My biggest piece of advice here is to not listen to the little voice in your brain that has been holding you back all along.
When you start replacing um with silence or start using silence for effect when speaking, you will start to hear that little voice chirping in your ear.
Say something you idiot! Everyone is staring at you!
Resist this. In fact, know that when you pause, people will pay even more attention to you. Their attention becomes cued up so you will have them hungry for what you have to say next.
Now deliver it!
3. Join a club
I haven’t personally done this, but several of my sales colleagues and public speaker friends swear by it.
Join a local Toastmasters club, whose sole purpose is to help you strengthen your public speaking and leadership skills through group and one on one speaking exercises.
No matter what you do for a living or your personality type, I have heard great things about these gatherings to help you improve your verbal and non-verbal communication skills, position, body language and speech planning.
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