How to Speak Without "Um"s and "Ah"s

Most people use some sort of filler sound when they are speaking. Often it is "um", "ah" or "er" though sometimes it is "and", "right" or something else. When it happens too often it is very distracting; even occasional fillers can sound unprofessional. One of the most common questions I am asked when I coach speakers is how to avoid using these fillers.
One way is to be better prepared. Fillers tend to come out when you are still thinking what to say and the thought isn't ready yet. If you have prepared and practised well enough your brain should not need this thinking time. But there are also some simpler, more "mechanical" cures.
Close your mouth. This solution is very simple but surprisingly effective for many people. When you have said something just close your mouth and open it again when you have something else to say. That way the fillers just can't get out. Leaving your mouth open in the gaps between ideas just makes it more likely that unwanted noises will come out.
Speak more slowly. Fillers tend to come when your mouth is ahead of your brain so you have gaps to fill while you think. Speak a little more slowly and your brain is able to keep up with your mouth, always being ready with the next idea without needing any filler noises.
Look at people. While you are speaking try maintain eye contact with people in the audience. Fillers tend to come more when you are looking in the air for inspiration, or looking at your shoes in embarrassment; they are much less likely when you are talking directly to someone.
In addition to these three techniques just preparing better and practicing will greatly reduce the fillers. Most people use them to cover the moments when they are thinking. If you have prepared well for a speech the words come more easily and you are never lost for words. Design your speech so that it can be delivered smoothly from memory and practice it until you can deliver it without hesitation. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan can help with one-to-one speaker coaching and speaking workshops for groups of people in companies and universities. He can also help to write or rewrite speeches. You can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475.


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