Speaking Clearly, Clarified: How to Eliminate Those Dreaded “Umms”

We hear it all the time: get rid of your filler words. Speak clearly, concisely, and efficiently.

Be it a major presentation, a conversation with your boss, or a job interview, we are always looking to trim out the excess of our speech pattern.


There are apps and editing tools for our writing, and productivity tools to trim meetings from our calendar. And even video editing software to amend our recorded videos! But those technologies can’t edit our live speech, and so our relationship with the dreaded “umm” persists.


‘Umming’ is an additional, superfluous sound that infiltrates our speech pattern. It sneaks in when we aren’t quite sure of what we are trying to say yet, or aren’t able to think clearly. These extra syllables are never used on purpose, but instead, as filler that dilutes the power of our thoughts. The problem is, once your ‘umm’ habit is developed, how do you break it?


We frequently hear leaders, executive coaches, and business books say that you should speak more directly, think before you speak, write out and edit before you talk, etc.


This is all great advice, but we like to take a different approach. We believe the root of all filler words is a lack of intention.


For us, it is crucial to ask why you are using filler words so we can stop your ‘ummm’ from the source. What we are looking for is the intention behind why you are speaking. To find this, ask yourself: why are you speaking? Is it for you to get information out? Or, is it for that information to be understood and internalized?


Often when we speak, we are thinking about ourselves, and what information we need to get out - it’s the verbal equivalent of listening to talk instead of listening to understand. Once you shift that mindset and practice, the filler words begin to disappear from your speech pattern.


Making this change will look different for everyone. For some, it means shifting focus away from your nerves. For others, it’s about moving your attention from what information YOU want to get out and shifting it to what information you want to be understood, or perhaps, it’s understanding HOW your audience hears/receives best. Are they experts in their field? Or are they novices who need easier language and simpler explanations? Are they interested in what you are talking about? (No matter what, we suggest you speak like they do!!) You know your audience, so it’s important to figure out what they need.


So how do we practice this? Take scenarios/conversations and re-do them with all sorts of different audiences in mind. How would you change your delivery to have your content easily understood by these different audiences? What vocal attributes can you capitalize on to be more effective in these conversations?


As you begin this journey of shifting your communication style away from YOU and towards the needs of your audience, there is one crucial note we would like to share - any adjustments you make can and should align with your authentic sound and can be a reflection and/or continuation of the way you want to be seen.


You get to pick how people interact with your sound. You get to pick the culture of your communication style. You get to pick your vocal brand.


By beginning to shift your thinking on communication in this way, you just have one more set of tools at your fingertips to make the best speaking choices for different audiences that will set you up for success.


If you liked this post, also check out our Vocal Brand series: