Thursday, June 23 2022

We have used them all. It can be a repeated word or phrase like “I would say”, “it seems to me” or “like”. It can be a repeated sound like “uh”, “uh”, “ah” or “uh”. All the speech is not contained; a part is a load which, for the speaker, serves as a kind of crutch. And here’s something scary for the public speaker: you don’t always hear yourself saying them. This is because these filler sounds work like “vocalized pauses” or phrases that we say when we think of additional content. So the speaker’s mind is on the thought rather than on the crutch sounds they make.

The good news is that these disfluencies aren’t much of a problem. As I wrote in a previous post, audiences expect a few “uh” and research shows that they don’t strongly interfere with audiences’ understanding of content. But if you want to maximize your credibility as a public speaker, crutch sounds don’t help. You might appear distracted, fuzzy, unsure, or just plain inexperienced. If the disfluencies are severe or habitual, you will need to do what you can to restore them. For this article, I’m going to share six ways to dampen kickstand sounds.

  1. Prepare and train

An “um” or its equivalent appears when a speaker has what I call a “moment of composition”. They decide what to say and insert a vocalized pause to give them space to think about it. The more the content is developed in advance, and the more you use a specific plan, a good clear structure and targeted transitions, the more you reduce the risk. If you take every opportunity to practice your speech, live and standing, you will have more familiarity and comfort, and less need for words on crutches.

2. Practice the silent break

One of the most important parts of the practice is to feel comfortable with the silence so that you are not tempted to fill that space with meaningless sound. In conversation, people will often use these sounds as placeholders: a way of suggesting, “I’m still talking.” For a public speaker, of course, you can usually count on not being interrupted, so you don’t need that placeholder. In its place, the break is not only possible, but powerful.

3. Work on your stage fright or other situational nerves

A profusion of crutch sounds from a speaker can be the result of feeling too casual or indifferent to speech. Most often, however, it is a form of saying that the speaker is nervous. So take a deep breath, focus on your purpose and your audience, and try to distract that internal spotlight from yourself. Too much self-monitoring during your speech (i.e., “I said uh … oh my god I said it again“) can make matters worse, however. So your best bet is to remind yourself that a little nervousness is okay and to take whatever steps you can in advance to make sure you are prepared and calm.

4. Slow down

Crutch sounds and other disfluencies can occur when your brain is not going as fast as your mouth. To reconcile this discrepancy, you are tempted to use the fills as a placeholder. As noted above, you don’t have to, and you can simply and silently take a break instead. But slowing down a bit, especially while exercising, will help the brain’s composing efforts keep pace with your speech so you don’t have those gaps.

5. Register

If you do your homework during your speech, you’ll be focused on the audience and your content, so you won’t necessarily hear yourself saying all the “uh” or “likes”. And if it is a speech that ends in a transcript, the court reporter will likely skip these disfluencies as well. If you have the option during your practice to check in, and everyone with a phone now has the option, you will get a clearer picture of the crutches you are using. Awareness is the first step. It will let you know how much you need to practice and work on on the silent break.

6. Find the pattern

Finally, when you watch the recording, watch or you add the kickstand sounds. Is it always at the start of a sentence? Between the sentences? Have you come up with a keyword or an idea? There is usually some sort of pattern, and recognizing it can help you guard against it, perhaps by planning for better transitions and connections between thoughts so that you are not mentally (and vocally) speaking during these. moments.

In the end, it is not one of those things to be terribly worried about. If you research them, you will notice that these disfluencies occur even with very experienced and efficient speakers. But it’s also one of those facets of public communication where almost anyone can improve. So, to make this count, aim to emphasize content and connections, and minimize loads and crutches.


Image credit:, used under license

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Study public administration, public policy in the United States

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