Have you ever had a conversation with someone who repeatedly used the words “okay,” “like” or “um?” Maybe you do it too. Ever wonder why? It’s because most of us think faster than we can speak. To help us process all the information flying through our brains when we’re talking with other people, we sometimes lean on “verbal crutches” as a way to buy the time we need to organize our thoughts. That’s how all those “you knows” get sprinkled into the conversation.
But they need to stop.
Whether you’re speaking with a reporter, a big potential customer or delivering important news to your team, it’s helpful if you can get comfortable with “pregnant” or extended pauses. By making a point and stopping to allow your thoughts to gel, you’re less likely to ramble and more likely to deliver a clear and concise message — without all those distracting “I means” and “basicallys” to get in the way.
It may seem like an eternity passes while you’re thinking through what you want to say, but the reality is no one really notices. That’s because those pauses are usually only a couple of seconds, not the minutes they feel like. And if you’re speaking with a reporter, the pause in conversation gives them time to catch up on note-taking, which increases accuracy.
So how do you kick the crutch?
Pay attention. Listen for over use of “filler” words. Recognizing this pattern will help you avoid it in the future.
Practice. Once you’re more aware of your use of verbal crutches, work hard to replace them with silence until you’re ready to continue.
Pace. Speaking more slowly can also help. Taking a steadier cadence allows your thoughts and speech to keep closer pace, which also helps you kick the crutch.
Prepare. Of course, preparation is key. When you take time to think about what you want to say prior to an interview or presentation, you’re not only more comfortable, but your responses will come through more authoritatively.
It’s not easy to break habits and it can be equally hard to get used to seemingly long pauses, but give it a try. With a little effort, you can actually use those breaks to emphasize key points and drive home your message.