Once upon a time, in the dark dark past …
– no it wasn’t dark as in scary or bad – I had a fabulous time. I learned and enjoyed and created and learned and enjoyed. I mean dark as in dim in the memory and maybe even “Dark Ages”
… I was a member of a speaking club called Toastmistress.
International, liberating, polishing, encouraging, teaching … and much much more, was Toastmistress.
As members of the organisation, we were discouraged, severely, from using “ums” – or any other filler – for that matter. There was often a “Grunts Mistress” (don’t you dare snicker!!) whose sole job was to count the ums (or grunts) and we were fined for them. It was a fabulous exercise in that it taught me to speak fluently – without fillers. It was a terrible exercise in that it made me hyper-aware of every um any speaker ever uses.
So now that um has become a trendy part of so much of our speaking, both on-stage and off-, it is making me really think about its place in speaking. I still think we need to learn to speak fluently without fillers, and that the skill is a powerful contribution to our success as speakers. I also think that it can be a hindrance if the content of a speech is in any way not engaging and if it is repeated way too much.
(And if another sports person begins their answer to an interview question with “Look …”, I will …. do something serious.)
I also still think we need to be aware of just how we are using our ums.
Yes, many of us use them when we are thinking. It signals that we are thinking.
Many of us use them to begin a new point or section of the speech. It signals a change or something new, a new thought.
And now I have just become aware of another use.
It happened to be Brene Brown who made me aware of it. I love her speaking – the content, as well as the authentic delivery style she has. Part of the self-effacement of that style is the use of um following something humorous. So I get the impression that what the um is signalling is “I have just said something that you might think is funny. I’ll wait in case you want to laugh.”
And since noticing this phenomenon in that TED talk, I have seen it several times since – used by comedians as well.
My internal response is to think that yes, it would be so much better if you had just paused.
Pauses are powerful.
… or just used a face/body gesture
…. or a foregrounding tool of some sort.
But the um did the job, in a haphazard kind of way.
Just as we need to be constantly using bits of our brains to watch ourselves as we speak, so we need to be aware of how we are using ums. Run your internal camera or use a piece of video machinery. If you are happy to choose an um to signal that you are thinking, or that you are introducing a new topic, or that you are allowing time for humour to sink in, then make that choice.
But make sure it suits your style, and the image you want to present, and doesn’t detract from your engagement and message.
And make sure you have considered the alternatives that just might be so much more suitable and powerful. I don’t think it’s just my “Dark Ages” training that makes me vote for the latter if it can be achieved at all.
What do you think?
Does the trend to “authenticity”, “rawsomeness” and conversational speaking justify the proliferation of ums?
And I’m sure I’m a latecomer to noticing the use for humour. When did you first notice it?
© Bronwyn Ritchie
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