It’s like…um, you know?

From daily clothing decisions to how our hair is styled, most of us put some thought into how we present ourselves.  We do this because we know that first impressions – whether conscious or unconscious – based on physical appearances. A strong handshake and smile can show confidence and receptiveness. Eye contact conveys confidence and trustworthiness.  How we present and carry ourselves is part of our personal brand. Did you know that how you speak also affects your brand?

Think back to someone who you thought was intelligent and confident… until they opened their mouth. Our choice in language plays an active part in how others perceive us and using verbal fillers such as “like”, “ah”, “um” and “you know” work against us. We’ve all been guilty of using them. They conveniently fill that little gap in conversation when we’re nervous or need a moment to shape our thoughts. How can such a small thing like saying like really, um, like affect what people think? We like all totally do it… you know?conversation-157

Those little fillers say a lot. In fact, they are formed out of habit, so ingrained in our way of speaking that sometimes we don’t even realize how much we’re using them. So much so that when you’ve made an effort to banish them, they sometimes creep back in. A few years ago, I was inspired at a communications training session to become more articulate by removing these pesky point detractors. The speaker, my then boss and company president, pointed out that defaulting to verbal fillers reduces communication effectiveness as they makes the speaker appear unsure. Whether you’re making a presentation, pitching to the media or having a conversation with your boss, the last thing you want to do is come off as confusing, nervous or unsure.

A paper on eliminating verbal fillers when public speaking from the University of Carolina, notes that “the silence that occurs when the speaker is processing the next bit of information he/she wishes to talk about may seem to last forever, but in reality, it is only a couple seconds.” Seconds! Think on that the next time you are having a conversation, giving a presentation or speech; embrace the pause, take a breath and continue with your point.  You might slip back now and again; and that’s okay. We’re all like… like human… you know?

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