Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

“I say ‘uhhm’ too much!”

That’s the declaration participants in speaking workshops most often make when you ask them what they are concerned about.

I often have to downplay the significance of fillers like “uhhm” just so I can get them to focus on more serious matters such as theme and organization.

But I do have to say that filler-free speaking is impressive.

I was reminded of this last night as I watched a speaker’s video.  He never uttered filler sounds (“uhhm,” “aahh”) or filler words (“you know”).  HIs filler-free language definitely contributed to the polished quality of his delivery.

I’m still reluctant to make filler-reduction a major priority, but I am going to renew my own efforts to be filler-free.

I was listening to a business leader speak about an initiative he had led.  It was clear that he, more than anyone, had made it happen.  Yet, his frequent use of the pronoun “I” didn’t come across well.

People expect leaders to assume responsibility but share credit.  If the leader is taking full responsibility for a failure, the impression can be powerfully positive.  But, if the leader is perceived to be taking full credit for a success, the impression is negative.

I don’t believe this executive was selfishly grasping for credit.  He was just saying “I did this” or “I did that” when he truly had.  Nonetheless, he would have done well to say “we” more often.  Even if “I” was more accurate, “we” would have projected a better leadership image.

In his book Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, William Safire says that “a good speech has a beat, a sense of movement that gets the audience tapping its mind’s foot.”  He calls this quality “pulse.”

He goes on to say that one tried and true way to establish pulse is to use the technique called anaphora.  You may not be familiar with the term but you are familiar with the technique.  It involves repeating a beginning, such as Martin Luther King did when he led into one future hope after another with “I have a dream that . . .”

This technique is rare in the business world but I once had a workshop participant show that it can be done.  She was a sales manager who had taken a sales team thru a difficult period in which sales plummeted due to bad press.

She went through a series of ways this team was exceptional, leading into each distinction with the words “Other teams would have…”  She added additional pulse by repeatedly ending with “but not this team.”

Other teams would have given up, (pause) but not this team.  Other teams would have developed a bad attitude, (pause) but not this team.  Other teams would have played the blame game, (pause) but not this team.

Her use of anaphora helped make her speech one of the most inspiring speeches I have ever heard in a business setting.  I suspect her team members run through walls for her.

The most common thing presenters will say after watching a video of themselves is “too many uhms and aahs!”

The next thing you will hear is how they have tried for years, without success, to stop using these filler words.  How do you stop it?!?

Ninety percent of the battle is awareness.  These sounds persist, despite good intentions, because people don’t hear themselves using them.  You’re not going to stop a behavior you don’t even notice.

Getting someone to point out your uhms and aahs, when you say them, is a sure way to high-level awareness.  If you want that awareness fast, put your kids on the assignment.  Where a fellow adult will be reluctant to harass you too much, your kids will have no such reservations.  They will delight in raising mommy or daddy’s awareness—both in private and public settings.  

If you are serious about reducing your uhms and ahhs, and you are not prone to losing your cool, the kid cure is both fast and effective.

There is this strange tradition in presentation slide making.

People create bullet points that are complete sentences, but don’t end them with a period. 

It’s not carelessness.  They really believe that a full-sentence bullet point should not have a period.  Ask them why they are leaving the periods off and you will be told that “bullet points are not supposed to have periods.”

Oh, really?  Who made that rule?

Most people I ask don’t have an explanation.  It’s just the rule.

Those who do have an explanation usually say that it’s necessary to leave off the periods so that the punctuation is consistent with other bullet points that are not complete sentences (i.e., phrases).

If consistency is the concern, may I point out that it was lost as soon as phrases and sentences were mixed on the same slide.  That inconsistency isn’t resolved by doing away with periods.

I’m not a big fan of bullet points.  However, if I’m going to use them, they are going to be consistently sentences or consistently phrases.  And, if they are sentences, they are going to have periods.

We all have pet peeves.  Welcome to one of mine.


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