In the midst of this holiday season, we’d like to PAUSE to say a bit about non-words.
The other day, we saw a reporter interview a high-profile guest on a highly-rated news program. When this particular host questioned his guest, he included a loud, uncomfortable “aaah,” as in “So do think that—AAAHHH—these countries will agree to the ideas you are proposing?” He used loud non-words every time he spoke, and we’re pretty sure he didn’t even know he was doing it.
You’ve heard us talk about non-words before. These are the sounds that creep into conversations and presentations while our mouths are trying to catch up with our thoughts. In this case, we’re talking about the most common non-words we hear: “umm,” “uh” and “aah,” punctuated by the more than occasional “you know.”
Non-words distract listeners. They make a speaker seem unprepared or even unprofessional. Non-words are much weaker than pauses when you’re trying to persuade others to accept your ideas. But most importantly, non-words are entirely AVOIDABLE. So, as you wade into 2018, make this the year that you eliminate non-words from your speech.
For the most part, we recognize that most people simply don’t notice when they use non-words. In our workshops, participants are genuinely surprised to learn that they have used 57 non-words in a five-minute presentation. The tonic for healing yourself of this nasty habit? Become aware of when you use non-words, and you’ll start to make adjustments almost immediately.
We encourage our clients to snap their fingers every time they hear a speaker utter a non-word in our programs. “Today, we’re going to talk about uhhhh…” SNAP! By the second or third non-word, speakers are starting to laugh at themselves (or getting annoyed with themselves) as they realize what they’re doing. By the fourth SNAP, they’re starting to catch the ums in advance—they slow down their speech and PAUSE more often.
Get serious about avoiding non-words in 2018. Invite the people around you—family, friends and co-workers, for example—to play along by alerting you when they catch non-words coming from your mouth. We predict that within a few days, you will recognize your speech patterns and make the necessary adjustments. Once you start replacing those meaningless word fragments with powerful, thought-provoking pauses, we’re confident you’ll find much more success as a presenter!