Do You Umm And Err When You Speak?

Conversational Fillers

“Umm and err” are conversational fillers. A filler is a word or sound which signals in a conversation or speech, that the speaker has paused but has not yet finished.

Recently I was asked to give a radio interview, this time about “why people use conversational fillers and why they are so annoying.” The main offenders were “umm and err” with “ahh” being attributed to the over 70 year olds. Middle aged people were chastised for the too frequent use of “actually”, “seriously”, “okay”, “right” and “well.” And younger generations were blasted by radio phone-ins for the inane repetition of “awesome”, “like” and “it’s all good”.

Personally, I’m fond of using “So…” when thinking on my feet. What do you use?

So Much To Say… So Little Time
These words of course aren’t just fillers, some are mindless cliches and some are used by listeners as conversational “reassurers” to signify, “Yes I’m still here, still listening to you.” They fill in a space that the listener assumes needs to be filled. But does it?

Some cultures favour speaking only when necessary and assume a speaker doesn’t need to be emotionally propped up with reassurance. I like that approach. What ever happened to silence, space and trust? Westerners are so used to receiving encouraging sounds when speaking, if there is silence, we assume the other is not listening.

Annoying, Distracting & Detracting
Both speakers and listeners use conversational fillers to signify an unspoken intention. The over or under use of such fillers can be annoying, distracting and detracting. What is your tipping point when “umms and errs” become more fill than conversation?

Some international public speaking organisations, nominate a club member to be the official “Umm and Err Counter” and the list of shame is duly read out at the end of the evening!

Honestly, it is ridiculous how many people timidly knock at my door, shoulders drooping, eyes downcast, admitting in hushed tones they are “terrible” at public speaking because they say “umm” too often.

How Many “Umms And Errs” Are Too Much?
Ok, an “umm” or “err” in every one to two sentences is too much in my opinion. Western audiences assume the speaker is either unconfident, doesn’t know what they are talking about, or may not be telling the truth. The occasional “umm” here and there is just fine.

Interestingly, what do we assume if the speaker just pauses, instead of filling the space with an “umm”?

Or what’s your reaction to a speaker saying thoughtfully, “Mmm” and gazing eyes up with a head tilt at the horizon whilst their next brilliant idea appears to be percolated? I’ve heard from clients that academics often use a thoughtful “mmm” to sound more engaging than a vacant “umm.”

How To Reduce “Umm And Err”And Other Fillers
Keep reading dear ones, as I explain the 3 step technique I use to coach my clients out of over dependence on this habit:

  1. Gather Evidence – first go on a research mission and note what you say and when. Ask for feedback.
  2. Slow Down To Think Before You Speak – Give yourself time to process your thoughts before you say them. No one chooses to say “umm” deliberately.
  3. Choose A Positive Substitution – Decide on a new type of filler, like dieters recommend drinking a glass of water instead of a eating a chocolate bar. I find the most successful substitution is to pause instead of saying “umm”. Simply stop, take a small belly breath, and continue on. Another method to use occasionally is to say “mmm” and look thoughtful, rather than blank. If you use other devices, please share them!

A client I recently worked with told me her boss found her unconscious habit of saying “yep yep” meant she wasn’t paying attention and instead trying to hurry him along. She’s now using a belly breath to pause and just listen or a pause to gather her words while she thinks before speaking.

Now It’s Your Turn
This is the 3 step technique I invite you to try with a trusted friend:

  • confess the conversational filler you mostly use;
  • the positive substitution you intend to use (pause, mmm or something else);
  • celebrate and learn from each others results.

Benefits Of Pausing Versus Conversational Fill

  • clearer and cleaner communication;
  • you and your message will be heard and understood;
  • you will feel more calm, confident and in control.

Final Thoughts
Conversational fillers and re-assurers like the occasional “umm and err” or “I see”, play an important role in everyday western communication. The problem is unconscious overuse in situations when we aren’t present, prepared or listening. “Like, it’s not all good, man.” Next year, aim to use less fill and give more of you. Say more, umm less!

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

December 2014: Un-Networking

Goddess of Public SpeakingUn-Networking

Do you loathe business networking and having to “sell yourself” especially after hours? Let me introduce you to the concept of “un-networking.” Un-networking is the art of being genuinely interested in meeting new people, minus the expectation of selling them anything.  Take the pressure off to “sell sell sell” and instead, aim to enjoy meeting just one new person.

How To Write A Speaker Biography

Why Should You Write A Speaker Biography?

A Speaker Biography turns listeners ON. A Speaker Biography is usually read out loud by an MC to introduce you and your topic to the audience. It explains WHY you are qualified to talk on the topic and WHY the audience should listen to you. A powerful introduction will warm up the audience to you and your ideas. Speaker Biographies are also used in promotional material including conference brochures and websites.

I know for a fact that most non professional speakers leave writing their Bio to the last minute, unsure what to write and they assume it’s not important. A Speaker Bio will:

  • Enhance your professional image and increase the likelihood people listening to you.
  • It will allow you to speak about yourself with greater ease.
  • If an MC is inexperienced, your Bio will help them introduce you with professionalism.
  • You can use it for other purposes including: resumes, ads or on your website.
  • It’s a great self-esteem boost. Mind you, our tendency to downplay our achievements also means that most people need help with writing their Speaker Bio as gosh, you forgot about that book you wrote or that phd you picked up a couple of years ago.

5 Quick Tips
For every speech or workshop you give, you’ll write a different biography because you need to tailor it to each audience – so that from the very beginning, you establish credibility and relevance. As a guideline:


Keep it simple. If your name or any key words are unusual to pronounce, include a pronunciation key in brackets, like this: Kikidis (kick-ee-dis) to create clarity. Write in the third person.


For less than a 20-minute speech, aim for a 30 second biography. For up to an hour, aim for 1 minute. For anything longer, aim for 2 minutes to prepare the audience for your greatness!


Make sure you read your own Biography out loud to yourself to check the wording flows with ease, that there are no boring or confusing bits and to check the timing. Ask yourself: “Would I want to listen to me, based on hearing or reading my own Speaker Biography?”

Spare Copy

Always take a paper copy in large font. It’s remarkable how often the MC will have misplaced it or won’t use their reading glasses and decide to ad lib.

* Improvise

*Always be prepared to improvise your own introduction or bio on the spot before you give your speech because things do go wrong and you cannot control everything.

If you suffer from modesty or just don’t know how to effectively sell your achievements in a way that prepares an audience to understand your supreme awesomeness, contact me to help you craft a compelling Speaker Biography. The aim is to craft a short summary that ensures an audience sits up and says “Yes! I want what she’s got!”

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Nov 2014: Stand Your Ground

Goddess of Public SpeakingStand Your Ground

If you feel shaky or unsure of yourself, visualise a powerful, immovable object like a huge tree with spreading roots or a deep, calm lake. Summon up the qualities of that powerful object inside of yourself. Pause and let those qualities fill every cell of your body. Then communicate from that inner place of strength and inherent power.

Introduce Yourself With A WIFM Not A Wish

How To Speak To A “Closed Group”

Have you ever tried to introduce yourself in a meeting, group or event and as much as you tried to insert yourself into the conversation, you are passed over by the others, as if you don’t exist? It’s hard to maintain self-confidence in an environment where you feel ignored. Actually it’s hard to not feel paranoid!

Unfortunately this is a common experience for many first timers when they attend an established group who often close ranks rather than open and welcome the newbies. Newcomers often feel they have to “force their way in” and “prove themselves”. Sometimes, they just don’t come back.

I’m going to outline how to introduce yourself using a simple WIFM strategy to show you how to break through this social communication barrier. It will enable you to be seen and heard every time you speak.

What’s In It For Me?
The strategy is called “What’s In It For Me?” (WIFM) Whenever we evaluate a product, service, idea or even a relationship, there are three questions running subconsciously through our mind. When you speak, especially if it’s to a group who don’t know you well, within the first two minutes people will be asking themselves:

1.    Who are you? (What qualifies you to talk about this?)
2.    How will I benefit?  (What will I get out of this?)
3.    And what do I have to do, to benefit? (What steps do I need to take?)

You may now be re-evaluating the last time you spoke, whether it was in a small meeting, large group or a networking event. Did you establish the answer to those questions with your listeners? And did you do it right up front so they quickly became engaged and interested?

Whether we browse for a new breakfast cereal, analyse the government Budget or listen to a colleague speak at a meeting, these are the same three critical questions we subconsciously ask ourselves each time.


WIFM Sample For A Networking Event

“Hello, I’m Maud and I manufacturing gizmos for reinforced concrete to keep our bridges safe. I’ve implemented 5 projects using gizmos and I’m going to tell you how I did that today.

My purpose is to help you avoid pitfalls in your business expansion and take to advantage of my experience

…and when I’ve finished in 30 minutes time, you’ll know how to do such and such… with your business. Is that something you want for your future?”


Play around with the WIFM Strategy sample and substitute your own language. If you use this style to introduce yourself when you speak at meetings and groups, especially when you know your audience may not want to hear what you have to say, you will answer those three critical, unspoken questions and objections running through their minds.

Once you establish credibility, explain the benefit and the steps to get that benefit, the audience will be welcoming, open to hearing what you say and more likely to follow your recommendations. Your influence will grow with your credibility every time.

Contact Geraldine for help with creating the WIFM for your next speech.

(c)2014, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Morph Your Speech Into Song

Monetise Your Message

The Shangri-La of many wanna-be speakers is to get paid for speaking in public and reach a wider audience. In addition to the standard keynote speech, there are many ways to monetise your message.

For instance, turn your crafted words into a workshop, published article, teleclass, MP3 audio file, or what about morphing your speech into song?

Take a look at this video of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s famous “Misogyny Speech”, named “Not Now, Not Ever”. It has been set to music and the Australian Voices choir breathes new life into an already powerful viral message, extending its influence and life span:

Apart from the fact that I love to break into melodramatic song and interpretive dance to keep listeners on the edge of their seat before they fall off it, you can also send your message out into the world via YouTube and iTunes.

Gimicky? Maybe. Creative? Definitely. Memorable? You bet.

Next time you put a speech together, think about creative ways to monetise your message and keep being heard, over and over again in different formats.

To make your next speech creative, memorable and lasting, contact Geraldine.

(c)2014, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

What Does Your Speaking Voice Say About You?

A Speaking Voice To Command Attention & Authority

Why do some people generate more attention and authority than others? Is it something they do with their speaking voice?

I Speak Therefore I Breathe
As you breathe in and out, air is pushed out of the lungs by the diaphragm and upwards against the vocal cords. This causes the cords to separate and breath passes between them. Ta daa! Sound is produced! The extraordinary variety of sounds we humans produce is caused by the vibrating sound waves in the throat, nose and mouth.

Why Everyone Has A Unique Speaking Voice
Your voice is different to everyone else because of the unique size and shape variations producing different vocal tones in the vocal cords, nose, mouth and throat.

Your voice becomes even more unique to you when volume strengths such as soft and loud are added. In your mind, think of hearing a whisper… now think of hearing a command.

Pitch conveys the colour, meaning and emotion behind your words. Think of a speaker you know whose voice has a high, monotonous, low, shrill, flat or squeaky pitch. What’s your reaction to each? What’s your preference?

And let’s not forget rhythm or ululation, the cadence and emphasis that individuals place on syllables and pronounciation which contribute to the different sounds of a regional accent or to convey meaning. For instance, “I see” or “I see.”

For Every Role, A Different Speaking Voice
Everyday, we all play different roles as parents, colleagues, managers, friends, lovers or children. Have you noticed whether or not your voice changes as you step into each new role? Have you noticed a variation in the voice of others? Obvious examples include:

  • A soft, slower tone when addressing children or someone who is upset or an employee learning a complex new task;
  • an authoritative level tone when addressing a team or audience;
  • a playful whisper to share a joke with your partner.

HOW you say your words is more influential than WHAT you say.

Influencing Others With Your Speaking Voice
Expression and emotion in your voice stirs an emotional response in others. For example, in the West:

  • Deeper, authoritative tones enhance credibility and leadership;
  • High, shrill tones lose authority and are ignored;
  • Soft, confident, slow tones cause people to ‘lean in” and reflect;
  • Powerful, story telling tones using language rich with emotive pictures command attention and engage imagination.

Leaders are often elected and followed due to their ability to lead with their voice and the power of their words. If you are a leader, you need to speak with professional presence. If you are a speaker, you need to lead with professional presence. Leading and speaking are flip sides of the same coin.

What Does Your Speaking Voice Say About You?
Most of us make assumptions about what we sound like based on feedback both verbal and non verbal (such as a smile or a frown) from others.

But are your assumptions about your voice and its influence, correct?

Some of my clients come to see me about “improving their voice” as they desire to command authority and attention when they speak. Sometimes the reasons are obvious:

  • they speak too softly (so they learn to project);
  • they speak too quickly (so they learn to slow down and pause);
  • they speak in a monotone (so they learn how to add colour);
  • they speak with a nervous quiver (so they learn to manage nerves).

What surprises me is how often people assume their voices aren’t powerful enough, effective enough, articulate enough or even good enough for others to hear. When we film or record their voice, they can hear the truth for themselves and take steps if they need to.

What Does Your Speaking Voice Sound Like?
To command greater attention and authority when you speak, you first need to get some factual feedback:

  • Ask 5 friends and colleagues for 5 words describing your speaking style;
  • Observe the impact of your words as they land on people’s faces. Are they listening respectfully, enthusiastically or tuning off?

Great speakers and leaders (at home, at work and in the world) command respect, trust and attention and inspire credibility and action. You can use your influence “for good” simply by finding and tweaking your authentic voice.

Access the power of your vocal cords and let me hear from you!

(c)2014, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

September 2014: Challenging People

Goddess of Public SpeakingChallenging People

Challenging people are a great learning opportunity and in the minority of any group or audience; perhaps 5%. I’ve often found the other 95% valued the presentation more because of what they learned from observing the interplay of power, drama and watching how you handled it. Sort of like a free bonus with the workshop!

Don’t Give A Speech; Be The Speech

Invite Your Inner Speaker To Dance

My friend Amanda, a dancer, gave an impromptu speech at a meeting. She announced it was her final night. She kept her body moving as she spoke. She spoke her gratitude, shared what she’d learned while packing up her bag, and then touched each person’s shoulder in farewell before dancing out the door. Adieu!

It worked because she trusted her personal strengths of communicating through dance, spontaneity and a good sense of timing. It worked because she trusted herself.

Often a fear of public speaking comes from uncomfortable self-consciousness and the belief that it is not OK to be you. Imagine what speaking in public might be like, if you were completely comfortable with yourself. Your inner public speaker may be quietly snoozing, just waiting for that wake-up kiss of self-trust.

Invite your inner public speaker to dance. Trust that what flows fourth like Amanda’s speech, is perfect for the moment. Amanda’s speech was so authentically Amanda; her message informed and entertained. And she really didn’t know what she was going to do next. She told me afterward she thought it was one of her best speeches and she was right.

Amanda didn’t try to give a speech; Amanda was the speech.

(c)2014, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.