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5 Of The Most—Um, Uh—Common Speaking Mistakes

Sounds like: errors you didn't know you were making.

Public speaking quickly can turn into a disaster, like the wreck that Transformers director Michael Bay got into at the Consumer Electronics Show.

But from what Business Insider reports, the most common problems we face with speaking are more of the annoy-your-audience, undermine-your-credibility variety.

"The way we speak dramatically affects how our bosses and colleagues perceive us," Alison Griswold reports, with the most common speaking potholes including your tone, pitch, and volume. So let's get to correcting them.

You don't know what you're going to say

Why did the Transformers director flee from the stage? Because the teleprompter went on the fritz. From his behavior, we can infer that he didn't have a total understanding of what he wanted to say.

Save yourself from getting stuck in a similar situation by knowing the general themes of what you want to say, rather than relying on word-for-word memorization, which has the added bonus of making you sound less like a robot.

You're talking way too fast

You don't want to sound like a hyperventilating rapper when you're on stage. If you're speaking too quickly, you're audience won't be able to follow what you're saying, and they'll check out.

You speak in a monotone voice

While there are notable exceptions, robots go for monotone, not humans.

While he is indeed a robot, Bender modulates his voice, attracting the ears of mammalian listeners.

Having a modulated voice—where your tone goes up and down—signals that you're mammalian. When other humans get the sense that you're mammalian, they'll be more open to connecting with you, which mammals are awesome at.

You trail off at the end of sentences

Which means that people don't hear your complete thoug...

You're overloaded with 'um,' 'uh,' and 'ah'

Um, ah, er, uh: these "vocalized pauses" are expected to be found in casual conversation, especially if you don't know exactly what you want to say. John West, head of the speech division at New York Speech Coaching, tells Business Insider that using lots of these pauses makes you lose your audience really quickly. But does the claim hold up?

Not completely: Slate writer Michael Erard observes that we've had verbalized pauses as long as we've had language (100,000 years, give or take).

What's more, research shows that a case of the ums can persuade people to stay on calls and children to learn. The idea, then, is to have your ums act as signals, the kind that attune the listeners' attention to what you're going to say next.

Hat tip: Business Insider

[Image: Flickr user Silicon Prairie News]

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  • Some other terrible habits: One of the worst is, like, when people, like, use "like" between, like, every other, like, word.
    A bit out of style now, is, you know, when people say "you know" when now one really does, you know, know what they're saying at all. And basically people use the word "basically" when it, like, basically, it adds, like, nothing, to the discussion, you know?

  • Lauren Alpert

    In the paragraph "YOU'RE TALKING WAY TOO FAST" it should be "your audience" and not "you're audience". It's been bugging me all day so I thought I would mention it. Also, "you're" appears in that paragraph 5 times including the header. Otherwise, it's a great article with good advice.

  • Spot on, Drake. I had my own Michael Bay moment recently - I was giving a talk to a group of entrepreneurs and went back to the podium to adjust my speaking notes. That's when I discovered that every page of my talk (after the first one) was illegible. I'd tried to save paper by printing on the backs of things and didn't realize that some of my "backs" were already printed on! Fortunately, I didn't need to flee because I had prepared thoroughly and knew what I wanted to say (your very astute point 1). I'd have to say my training as a musician (you never ever stop no matter what) also had something to do with my degree of calm. As it turned out, that was one of the best talks I've ever delivered!