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

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

5 Of The Most–Um, Uh–Common Speaking Mistakes
[Image: Flickr user Silicon Prairie News]

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.


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


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.