“Word whiskers” are expressions or sounds a speaker makes that serve only as place holders or time fillers. Speakers sometimes use them when they are searching for a particular word, or when they are unsure of what to say next.
They’re expressions such as “ah,” “um,” “and ah,” etc. If you speak publicly only occasionally, and consider yourself a novice, don’t worry about eliminating these – yet. There are probably other issues you’re working on, and those are likely to be more important.
If you’re more experienced, you should eliminate them as soon as possible. Why? To begin with, they’re useless. No, they’re worse than that – they’re annoying and they detract from your presentation.
Give Them What They Want
Who are especially annoyed by them? Your most attentive listeners. The people in your audience who are particularly interested in your presentation. Those who are most eager to hear what you have to say. They are hanging on to your every word. You break their train of thought and frustrate them when you interject nonsensical expressions.
Remember that others can think a lot faster that you can speak, and that’s true even when you’re speaking fluently, with no word whiskers. However, they are willing to stifle this ability if you hold their interest. However, when you interrupt the flow of ideas, they become mentally restless.
What’s the solution? First, if you have this problem, acknowledge it, even if only to yourself. Then, decide to eliminate word whiskers. If you’re not sure whether you use them or not, ask someone to listen to you as you speak and note whether you have this problem. Or, you could record your speech and listen to it afterwards.
How To Eliminate Them
How do you eliminate them? By focusing on thoughts, not words. Groping for just the right word may trigger the use of a word whisker, because what you’re doing is stalling for time while you try to think of the right word.
Don’t do that. Instead, use whatever word comes to mind. It’s the idea that counts. The particular words you use are important, but not as important as the thought itself.
This underscores the importance of never writing your presentation out verbatim or attempting to speak from memory. When that’s done, emphasis is often placed on using some “perfect” word or expression you came up with during preparation. If you can’t remember that “perfect” word when presenting, or if you can’t quickly find it in your notes, your mind will hesitate and you’ll resort to nonsensical expressions as a delaying tactic.
Just Say It
So, get the idea in mind, and just say it. Use your notes to remind you of ideas, and get engrossed in expressing those ideas. If you need a second or two to think of how you’ll say something, just pause. When you’re ready, speak.
By the way, pausing briefly is much better than uttering nonsense. Pauses often create anticipation for what will follow, so instead of interrupting the train of thought, they really help the audience to follow you.
In summary, the keys to overcoming this problem are:
1. Make a firm decision to eliminate word whiskers
2. Train yourself to focus on the thought you want to share
3. Express that thought and nothing else
4. Move on to the next thought
By persisting, you’ll soon find that you’ve completely eliminated this bad habit. Your speech will be fluent and much more persuasive.
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