Today’s blog post comes thanks to a question on Facebook that one of my online friends, Sharon McPherson, saw, tagged me, and recommended me to help with. So thanks Sharon!

Here’s that question as it appeared on Facebook:

How can I improve my speaking skills

As I read this post, I realized I get this question A LOT and have for years. In fact I even wrote an article about it – I knew I did, I just had to find it. It’s on Ezine Articles here. Apparently I never put that article on my own blog (oh if I had a nickel for every time I knew better, but didn’t do something I’d have a second home on the beach already!). I’m fixing that today, and updating it just a bit.

You see, many business professionals think they sound OK when presenting their content on teleseminars, webinars, or even in person. But it’s when they listen to themselves on the recording later or are confronted with a set of transcripts that they realize they have a few issues to improve. The good news is we all can improve when we take that first step: realizing we need help.

One of those problems is ums and uhs; also “like,” “you know,” and other verbal crutches show up a lot in too many presentations. If you want to cut those out, here are my top 5 suggestions for the most effective ways to get past the ums so your message comes through loud and clear:

  1. Be Aware
    This is the important first step. Many people simply have no idea they rely on verbal pauses or disfluencies until they hear themselves on a recording. The first step in overcoming any addition is to recognize and acknowledge that you have one. And truly, people who say um and uh too much are addicted to their crutch words. Having an awareness that you make this mistake will get you that much closer to stopping it.
  2. Practice Out Loud
    If you have a tendency to um and uh, the reason is often because you have an idea of what you want to say next, but you’re not totally certain. So you insert a verbal filler to fill the space while you figure out the next word. Practicing out loud will get you to the point where you are completely comfortable with what you’re saying, and therefore not have the need to um or uh (or at least greatly reduce it). If you plan on delivering the same material multiple times, you’ll have to practice much less often as you gain more experience. If you can, record yourself while practicing so you can hear where you tend to um and uh the most.
  3. Work From Detailed Notes and Not a Script
    You’d think a word-for-word script would make it easier to stop the ums… and it can. But only if you have experience making a script sound natural. Otherwise you’ll sound like you’re reading. That’s the opposite extreme of um and uh and sounds just as bad. Use detailed notes and be sure of the points you want to make.
  4. Focus During Your Presentation
    Listen to yourself as you present your speech or teleseminar. Do not think about anything else other than what you are saying, how you are saying it and your audience: IN THAT MOMENT. People will um and uh when they are distracted from their planned comments. For example, while on a teleseminar, shut down your email, Facebook, and other instant message features so you won’t be visually interrupted (sometimes just the sound of those things can distract you enough to trigger an um.) Don’t try to multi-task while leading a call or doing any type of presentation. Focus and pay attention to the moment.
  5. Connect with Your Audience
    Here’s a fun test to do the next time you’re practicing with a friend: try to say um while making direct eye contact. It’s nearly impossible. Why? Because you’re having a conversation and um isn’t a word. Um doesn’t fit and doesn’t make sense. While you’re having a 1:1 conversation, you would likely avoid um and uh. Make your presentations much more conversational and your um and uh will disappear. On a webinar or teleseminar where you can’t see your audience members, you could post a photograph of your ideal client or audience member where you can see it to remind yourself you’re talking to actual human beings and not just to your computer screen.

Is it crucial to get rid of all the ums and uhs? Experts disagree, but in my decades of experience as a speaker, audience member, and instructor, I haven’t thought less of a speaker who had outstanding content with an occasional um or uh. You don’t have to eliminate every um and uh when the rest of your message is solid. The time to get concerned is when your audience is listening for your next um instead of paying attention to your message. So fix what you can, give yourself a break, and um, keep on public speaking.

As to the reply that Contentrix doesn’t know what I offer – for someone who has verbal fluency issues, I offer several personal services. I will watch a video or listen to a recording and analyze the challenges in both content and delivery, which is delivered as a written report; then I’ll work with and coach the speaker via phone or Skype video chat to improve during a series of private sessions. And I guarantee that anyone who works with me in this intense kind of way WILL improve dramatically.

So now you know!

What kinds of challenges do you recognize in yourself as you speak? And what has worked to help you improve? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.