College x

Just, like, talk different, you know?

Public speaking skills will be a great asset in any career (Image via NBC News)

So, like, if you’ve ever heard someone, um, use a lot of filler words, they kind of, like, seem unintelligent. It’s the easiest way to ruin credibility: littering thoughts with meaningless filler words in speech. Words such as “like,” “um,” “how,” “just” and “so” are called when they appear. Of course, there’s a correct way to utilize these words, but they most often crop up where they don’t belong.

A speaker who abuses verbal pauses risks appearing nervous in front of an audience. It appears as if minimal planning went into the speaking, and now the speaker has no idea what to say next, or maybe a speaker had done so much planning that the only way to move from one topic to the next is by filling silence with whatever word comes to mind.

In addition to sounding amateur, the abundance of a word such as “like” distracts the audience from the speaker’s purpose. Nobody wants to deliver such an awful presentation that people tune out. The best way to make people listen is to make every word worth listening to. Here are five proven ways to eliminate those verbal pauses.

1. Start with text

It’s no secret that millennials spend a lot of time texting, Tweeting and Instagram-ing. Words are woven into daily life as young adults spend nearly one third of waking hours on their phones. If one aspect of life could be targeted for improving one’s use of language, it’s cell phone usage. While verbal communications happens too quickly to allow for correction, texting lends itself to editing.

Take a look at the amount of filler words in texts. Everyone has different go-to words to fill up space, but common ones are “just” and “like.” Typically when these words appear in a text or Tweet, they have a low level of functionality.

When they show up in a text, maybe try re-reading the text. Ask yourself if these filler words need to be here. If not, try deleting them. The text will most likely not lose an ounce of meaning. In fact, getting rid of unnecessary words helps to enhance the text’s clarity, which improves communication.

2. Pinpoint problem words

Problem words are different from one person to another. Students pick up words and phrases from friends, roommates and professors. While the occasional “like” does minimal damage, using it in every other sentence becomes noticeable and hence problematic. Take the time to make note of such words that come up way too often.

Ask a friend if you have any words or phrases that appear too much in conversation. Often, speakers don’t notice words as they are spoken, but friends can typically recognize patterns in each other’s speaking. After long term dialogue, common phrases show up between two people.

Social media is a prime example of words spreading from one person to the next. Internet slang such as “woke” and “salt” have different meanings when used online versus offline. Through social media, language trends spread among peers without any conscious thought process.

So, even if you believe you don’t say “so” too much, that word may surface more often than you think.

3. Record yourself

Big presentation or job interview coming up soon? Practice! And don’t just practice, record that practice. Any athlete or musician knows that practice makes perfect, but practicing something incorrectly leads to a flawed execution.

To catch problems early on, set up a recording device before practicing a speech. Afterwards, pull out a good old-fashioned pen and paper and write down the problem words. While listening to the recording, take tally marks next to each of these words.

Lisa B. Marshall, a communications expert and author of “Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation,” states that awareness is key to eliminating problem words. The simplest way to awareness is through recordings. Even if listening to your own voice causes the worst cringe, it leads to knowing more about words that unintentionally slip into your speech.

4. Planning transitions

When transitioning from one topic to another, verbal pauses naturally appear. Just like writing an essay, keep a few phrases handy for moving from topic to topic. Having these phrases written down in notes helps to enforce using them instead of a filler word.

5. Feel comfortable in silence

Speakers use verbal pauses to avoid awkward silence, in which a subject feels judged. There’s an urge to fill that silence with something to indicate that more content is coming soon, but a simple “so” or “uh” is not necessary.

Silence intimidates because it forces all attention onto the physical presence of a person. Instead of shying away from this attention, own it. Tons of Ted talks focus on exuding confidence, especially Amy Cuddy’s “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” Her speech focuses on the phrase “fake it ’till you make it” by changing its meaning into “fake it ’till you become it.” She provides biological evidence that standing in power poses creates a response of confidence and low stress within the body.

Before walking in for a job interview or presentation, try striking a power pose. It’ll help to create a physiological response in the body and make that silence feel a little less daunting.

Okay but do I like, need to do this?

Sometimes speakers litter their speeches with verbal pauses. It doesn’t always ruin that speaker’s credibility, especially if they have been established in a specific field. For example, the late Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court’s “discourse was nearly always crammed with fillers,” says Sean P. O’Rourke, director of the Center for Speaking and Listening at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee.

Professors, political leaders and parents alike can get away with a few “ums” and “uhs” without losing their power. But for college students, focusing on eliminating these verbal pauses is key to success. Those with less influence lose credibility when they abuse verbal pauses. For students attempting to land jobs in their field of study, remember that interviewers want to see confident, well-spoken applicants. Equal attention is typically given to the written application and oral interview.

So, as you, like, just think about life after college, you might want to, like, think about how your words come across to others.

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