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How to get rid of your 'ums' and 'likes'

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 12:22
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For many of us, what we say is punctuated and disjointed by those little 'ums' and 'likes' that get unwittingly sprinkled through otherwise well-constructed sentences.

”I was like… planning to say that like, but um he just… said it before me.” They are verbal crutches, with 'like' being particularly used by younger generations.

Though certainly not the most criminal of linguistic lapses, this habit can be a drawback in professional life, detracting from the value of what is being said and often detrimentally affecting the listener's perception of the speaker's eloquence. It is something especially important to be aware of when it comes to job interviews or speaking in front of groups of people.

Here's how to rid yourself of this small, but annoying verbal tic:

1. Be aware of it

The first step in kicking any unwanted habit is awareness. Make a mental note whenever you catch yourself 'umming' or 'liking' – try to work out whether there are particular triggers or environments that set you off. Get a friend to monitor things for you, or set your smartphone to record during high-pressure situations such as meetings or public speaking events.

2. Slow down

Speed is often a key factor behind those 'um' or 'like' eruptions. We feel the need to speak fast so that people won't lose interest in what we're saying or jump in and steal our thunder. Our brains struggle to keep up and we look for ways to plug the gaps.

Try slowing things down. As blogger Seth Godin points out, the fastest speaker in the room is not necessarily the one who's heard best. Have confidence in yourself – if what you're saying is important, people will listen.

3. Allow the silence in

However slow you go, accept that there will be natural pauses in your speech from time to time. There's no need to cram something into every gap – some of the most effective public speakers, Barack Obama, for instance, deliberately leave long pauses between words to add gravitas. Breaking up your speech like this can actually build suspense and help focus others on what you're saying.

Practise embracing these silences when they come along by resisting the temptation to fill them and letting them run their course.

4. Don't expect miracles

Ridding yourself of a lifelong habit is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't berate yourself if you find yourself slipping up occasionally; the fact you're noticing what you're doing is a sign of progress in itself. When you catch yourself 'umming' or 'liking' use it as a signal to take a deep breath and slow down.

Like any big adjustment it's a gradual process but, with a little hard work and perseverance, there's no reason why you can't come out, tic-free, within the space of a few weeks. The cleaner your speech becomes, the more confident you'll begin to feel when speaking and this will hopefully stop new tics cropping up in their place

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