I don’t know who needs to hear this, but there is no moral problem or indication of personal failure if you say ‘um’ when you speak. In my mind, there are two main reasons for building awareness of, and understanding your use of um and other filler words.
The first is fairly straightforward to tactical: If there are too many, they create a sort of static that clouds your message. Kind of like when you’re listening to your favorite song on the radio in the car and you start to go out of range. You can try to listen reeeeally closely, but ultimately it’s no use…only bits and pieces of the song get through.
The other is equally tangible, but often harder for folks to quantify: Your ums are a social indicator of an underlying insecurity or discomfort. So, in addition to not getting your chosen message through clearly, you also end up sending a signal that you’re not as confident as you could be (or maybe even are!), thus potentially undermining the confidence that the listener(s) would otherwise have in you.
A lot of people tell me that they work hard to count their ums and other filler words, but they are still frustrated because they seem to say them all the time anyway. They can’t seem to stop…so what the heck, man?!
Hard Truth: Ums are the symptom, not the problem.
Trying to solve for the tactical piece only, and focusing on counting your ums can quickly become a distraction that takes away precious bandwidth from delivering the message. This can actually *exacerbate* how much you say um if you don’t also take the time and effort to understand and mitigate the underlying insecurity or discomfort. It also makes little difference if you continue to be nervous or uncomfortable when you’re speaking.
When you feel more confident and secure within yourself, you will inherently begin to speak with more conscious intention and fluidity. Your word recall will improve, as will your breath control, pacing, and timing. All of this organically results in a sharp decrease in filler words, as well as other ticks and fidgets – including stutters and mumbling. It also results in a sharp increase in clarity, charisma, and impact. From here, in this more confident, present, and still place, you can add extra refinement to your choice of language and storytelling – including removing any remaining ums, filler words and fidgets.
So, my invitation to you is to give yourself a momentary break from counting your filler words and start digging a little deeper into what is making you nervous or uncomfortable about speaking up in the first place. It’s not as simple, and it’s definitely more scary. It’s also where your true power to meaningfully contribute and connect resides.
You got this.