Photo by Will Kell / Unsplash

A visit to my local Toastmasters reminded me of why what I hear on the radio is just so awful

Is your language full of fleas? Do you eviscerate your expertise by using sloppy filler words? You may not realize how much your competence ends up being questioned when this happens. Let's talk.

Three weeks ago:

Chuck stood up and reminded the small group of Toastmasters- my first visit in many years- about being mindful of "filler words." While his examples were um, uh, you know, I was struck by what happened after I tucked his comments away in my subconscious.

I listen to NPR regularly. Competent, capable announcers interview experts in a variety of fields. A few years back I heard a woman interviewed about America's amazing women's soccer team. She was embedded with them and clearly knew her stuff. She was bright, capable and authoritative.


Every few words she would say sort of and kind of.

It wasn't just the use of um or ah; these words often bookended a bombshell point. The problem with using such words is that they undermined those bombshells, making her sound querulous and unsure.

Hence, less authority. Not because of her gender. Because of her choice of words.

Another program featured experts discussing gentrification, redlining and crumbling housing in Baltimore. One expert used fillers every three words, which made listening so annoying that I had to turn the radio off. She also was bright, capable, and competent. Yet her constant use of you know, kind of, sort of, um, ah and all the rest so littered her comments as to make her both unintelligible and downright irritating.

I was genuinely  interested in what she had to say but could no longer bear the sloppy presentation.

This wasn't an issue of English as a second language. Accent doesn't play a part here. This is about clear, crisp commerce in words.  Not limited to women, either. I've heard men do the same thing.

So what's to be done?

Those who present professionally, and I have for many years, learn to speak well. We practice, we join clubs like Toastmasters or National Speaker's Association. We hire coaches. There are all kinds of ways to get rid of these verbal tics. In Toastmasters there is an "uh" counter, and you may get a trophy for being the worst offender. It's a joke, and all of us can learn from having someone gently point out how often we rely on fillers instead of using those seconds for a thoughtful and impactful pause.

You can also tape yourself and watch the results on your phone, which will allow you to see in action what you may be missing.

Please see this article, which goes into more language (including the above) which can make us sound foolish, immature or dated, which is a problem for those my age who haven't joined the 21st Century, when we're addressing groups. For example, gender fluidity asks that we stop calling people "guys," even though that's common usage. Doesn't make it polite or right. I've had to clean that out of my vernacular, and it's stubborn. To that then:

Avoid These Phrases That Make You Sound Immature at Work
Because some words have no place in your professional vocabulary.

If you don't care, fine. However how we speak, and how we are received, are powerful indicators of how far we can go. The more able we are to speak clearly and succinctly, and again I am not addressing accents here, only poor language habits, the more seriously we are likely to be taken.

Words are our commerce. How we use them, how we train ourselves to wield them with real competence is an art form. Just like poetry and fine writing, the language we use to express ourselves at work, on the platforms and the lecterns during our careers matter.

The more seriously we take our language, the more seriously others are likely to take us.

African male voice over artist recording a voice-over script with a condenser and Pioneer exclusive headphones.
Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu / Unsplash

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