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How to Stop Saying "Er", “Um,” and “You Know”

I first read the full version of this blog on the Harvard Review and loved it so much so that I'm now sharing the best bits from it for you.

Using Pauses effectively

When you’re giving a speech, your perception of time is often distorted, and what feels like an eternity in your mind is actually a few short seconds for the audience.

Despite how they may feel at first, well-placed pauses make you sound calm and collected, and they help three ways:

1. Collect your thoughts: If you lose your train of thought, a pause gives you time to get back on track. As long as the pause isn’t too long (no more than five seconds), the audience won’t hold it against you.

2. Calm your nerves: Taking a pause before starting a speech is especially important for people with a fear of public speaking, as it helps calm nerves. The tactic is useful in the middle of a speech as well. If you find yourself getting flustered, pause briefly to take a deep breath (as long as it’s not audible or obvious) and reset.

3. Build suspense: Pauses aren’t always a defensive tactic. Strategically placed silence can build suspense, emphasise a point, or give the audience time to absorb a key insight.

Like filler words, pauses give you a chance to take a break and figure out what comes next. However, a pause makes you sound confident and in control, whereas overused filler words are distracting and make you sound as if you don’t know what to say.

As you prepare for your next presentation, identify the words you lean on most, and train yourself to avoid them. Then, next time you’re in front of an audience, use silence to gather your thoughts, rather than filling the air with sound.


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