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Banish Your "Uh-Words" The secret: breathe and pause

by Quentin Steele


One innocent-sounding word, a tiny word devoid of consonants has incredible power to dilute your speaking ability. Excessive use of "Uh-words" makes you sound unprepared and unsure of yourself. It annoys your audience and distracts them from your message. Ridding yourself of uh-words could easily be the biggest improvement in your speaking ability.


The first step to getting rid of uh-words is to identify when, where, and why you say them. Because we often say uh-words unconsciously, it’s easiest to record yourself on audiotape or videotape, or ask a friend to listen to your speech. Do you say uh-words:

  • in the middle of sentences as a filler word?
  • between sentences?
  • in the transition between paragraphs?
  • when you give impromptu speeches?


Some people use the uh-word as a think word. For others its just a nervous filler. Uh-words are most common during a speech’s introduction, while you are first warming up to your audience, and during the conclusion, which is often afterthought and unplanned. Carefully planning and rehearsing your intro and conclusion will make you feel much better prepared and will help minimize uh-words in those parts of the speech.


Once you’ve analyzed when you say "uh", be on the lookout for those "high-risk" moments. Then, you can eliminate your uh-words with one simple tip: Each time you feel the urge to say "uh", pause and breathe. This might seem overly simple, but it’s a very effective technique. When we speak before a group, we have a human tendency to want to fill every moment with sound. We’re afraid the audience will think less of us if we don’t keep talking non-stop. On the contrary, the best speakers punctuate their speech with lots of pauses, to add emphasis, create suspense, or give the audience time to digest the message. The "breathe and pause" technique forces you to slow down, think, and keep control. This will add credibility to your speaking, because you’ll sound less nervous and more confident.


So try this on your next speech. Be on the lookout for "uh-words" and replace them with breaths and pauses. The result will be a more polished, more poised speech.

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