Lazy Speech Habits

“I listened recently to a teacher using “uh” so often that it became distracting and I could not pay attention to his content.  We speakers use a variety of catch phrases, including   “you know,”  “OK,” “and uh,” and “et cetera.”   Using filler words or verbalized pauses as transitions or to fill space between sentences can affect the speaker’s credibility as well as how audiences accept the speaker’s content.

In addition, using a word over and over can have the same distracting effect. My wife pointed out to me that I overuse the word “just” in both my speaking and writing. Once on my student evaluations at the end of a semester, several students commented that I overused “class.”  I said way too often, “Now, class, you need to turn to page…,” or “Class, you need to remember to….” I was not even aware I was using the word, let alone so frequently that several in that section commented on the bad habit.

Because we may not be aware of when we use certain expressions, we have a hard time making the corrections. At all costs, avoid the verbalized pause, “uh,” or “and-uh,” to maintain the sanity of your audience and enhance your credibility.

Here are some techniques to cope with that weakness.

Ask someone you know who will be in the audience to listen for meaningless expressions, verbalized pauses, or overused words. When you identify those, you have several choices to eliminate them.

Choose a new word to use instead and discipline yourself to substitute the new word or phrase two or three times in your next speech. Write it in your notes if that will help. For example, if you have trouble using  “you know,” substitute “also” or “in addition to….”

Use a pause to show you are through with the thought and simply go to your next point without filling in the silence. You may feel awkward not saying anything when you have habitually said “you know” at the beginnings or ends of most of your thoughts; but trust me, audiences will listen better to the next sentence if it is preceded by silence to show punctuation instead of an unnecessary expression.

The last suggestion is to develop key internal summary sentences that you include between main points. This will help you avoid the needless sounds because you will be concentrating on internal summary. For example you could say, “Now that we have talked about the positive use of the pause, let us now move on to internal summaries.”

As a speaker you are evaluated by the choice of words you use to express your ideas. Don’t accept the extra burden of allowing meaningless words or sounds lower your credibility.

My guess is that when we say “You know” for the tenth time in five minutes and an audience member yells out, “No, I don’t know. Tell me!”  we will stop using it.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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