The word ‘um’… We’ve all said it, and we all still do. ‘Um’ and ‘uh’ are very common filler words that we use in everyday conversation, whether it’s because we don’t know what to say, or we need a moment to think. But even though these words are common, using them too often can have consequences for anyone that is trying to build authority. When a speaker says ‘um’ or ‘uh’, they come across as hesitant, insecure, or lacking confidence, which is everything you want to avoid when you’re standing on a stage, trying to close a deal, or even trying to get a date.
For myself, as someone who’s spoken on some of the biggest stages in the world, this was a habit that I myself had to learn to break. Over the years I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve found that the easiest solution is the simplest one: all you need to do is pause.
Let’s say you’re speaking on stage and forget what you were going to say next. This is one of the worst things that can happen to a speaker, and it’s tempting to fill in the awkward silence by saying ‘um, yeah, like, I mean…’ You don’t want to embarrass yourself by making it obvious you lost your spot. I’ve been there, and I know how it feels! It’s a scary place to be in, especially when you’re standing in front of five hundred people. However, instead of filling in the space with meaningless gibberish, just pause and don’t say a word until you find your spot again. No, it won’t be awkward. In fact, we tend to think our pauses are much longer than they are, when in reality other people don’t notice. So if you feel tempted to say ‘um’, just take a few moments and let yourself be silent instead.
Letting yourself be silent for a few moments will actually give you the exact opposite effect that saying ‘um’ will give you. Filler words make you look insecure, but silence gives you authority. When the room goes silent, everyone’s attention automatically goes back to you. They wait and watch attentively, wondering what you will say or do next. And when you do speak, the words you say will carry much more weight within them.
Learning to pause instead of filling the space with ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ can be a difficult habit to break, especially within casual conversation. However, with enough consistency and practice, you’ll eventually change the way you speak, and build your authority and confidence from within in a way that the world will notice.