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How to iron out awkward buffer phrases while speaking in a virtual meeting

Many of us do not notice when we litter our speech with “ums” and “ers.”

How to iron out awkward buffer phrases while speaking in a virtual meeting
[Source photo: dubassy/iStock]

I can tolerate small glitches in technology, at this moment everyone is understandably learning to adapt. During a video conference, if you’re only occupying a quarter of your screen because your camera is set at a bad angle, it’s to be expected. After all, many of us aren’t trained with speaking from a selfie perspective.

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But when your speech starts to feel like stop-and-start traffic, this is what drives me crazy. When speech is fragmented and you’re often sprinkling “ahs” and “ers” and “you knows” everywhere, your communication suffers and your audience’s attention wanes.

How do you immediately reduce your filler words and deliver more impact, especially in remote conversations and conferences? Here are a few easy tips to improve your flow.

Keep your sentences short

When you are speaking and your thoughts are all connected and you want to string your thoughts together and you want to make sure your teammates get the idea and they know what you’re talking about you’re going to have “ahs” and “ers.”

Notice the number of “ands” in that sentence.

Every “and” is a potential “ah” or “er.” Now, try saying that sentence out loud. Unless you are a trained actor, you’ll probably have an “ah” or “er” or two, or three. Longer sentences produce a lot of “ahs,” “ers,” and “you knows.” The more reason to keep your sentences short.

Speak in the active “we” voice

When you speak in the passive voice, you are speaking in an official, more formal voice, rather than a personal voice. The passive voice distances you from your message, and the impression is you are not owning the message.

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For example, compare the two phrases “Decisions were made” and “We made decisions.”

Switching to the active voice is critical to connecting you with your message. When you are connected with your message, your thoughts flow more naturally. You get more in sync with what you’re saying. And when you’re in sync, you have fewer “ahs” and “ers” in your speech.

Focus on a smooth flow

Have you ever driven with a jerky driver? Jerky drivers maintain speed by accelerating then braking, accelerating then braking—it’s a nightmare. You try to distract yourself—close your eyes, look at your phone, escape the jerky feeling.

When you’re speaking with someone who has that same start-and-stop sound, you want to tune out. You don’t want to listen to that person.

If you want to be a person that people want to listen to, you have to become a smooth speaker. Instead of putting your foot on the brake, you have to let your energy flow through smoothly. To achieve this smoothness, you have to extend your vowels to stretch out your sound.

Try to say “hello” as fast as you can. Now say “hello” and extend your vowels, but then keep all the sounds connected. Now say “he-llo” with a break, then take a pause. Try it once more, concentrating on extending your vowels and smoothing one into the other.

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It may seem funny when you extend your vowels, but the effect creates a calmer sound. When you connect your words and practice smooth speech, like this, you will speak with fewer “ahs” and “ers.”

Don’t forget the big picture

What happens to you when you’re speaking, and you start editing your words in your head? Chances are, every edit you make causes a hesitant moment. When you hesitate, you essentially encounter a glitch and say “ah.” 

It’s just like when you go to a country where people drive on the opposite side of the road. Your instinct is to look the wrong way, and therefore experience a millisecond of hesitation as you process your word choice.

And as expected when you’re filtering through mental edits, you will undoubtedly pad your thinking time with filler phrases (for instance, “I mean,” “you know,” or “okay”) while you speak. While caution serves you well when you are traveling and navigating a new way of speaking, caution will cost you lost time and good impressions on remote calls. It is natural to need a moment to achieve the right level of precision, clarity, and tone with your words.

By implementing these suggestions toward smoother speech, you will avoid pushing your audience away and drive your points home with power, precision, and authenticity.

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