‘Well, um, my name’s Bob. I’m an, em, accountant with one of the, eh, Big Four, uh, accountancy firms.’

The ehhhhhhhs; the ahhhhhhhs can feel comforting, like a nice, warm blanket stopping you from saying anything stupid or embarrassing. However, let’s see what this sentence would look like on paper instead of spoken aloud:

‘Hi, my name is Bob. I’m an accountant with one of the Big Four Accountancy firms.’

Which one do you think is better?Not hard to decide is it?

Although it feels like they give us a helpful pause where we can deliberate and remember what we were going to say, the ‘ehs’ and the ‘ahs’ can actually hinder your speech or presentation.

These are known as filler words and it is the duty of the ‘Ah Counter’ at Toastmasters meetings to count how many filler words you use in a single meeting and report the number to you at the meeting’s conclusion.

This is not to say you are being criticised by the Ah Counter. On the contrary, he/she is trying to facilitate your development by highlighting some points of improvement to make your future speeches even better.

Indeed, your speech may have been terrific! It’s just that these filler words may have diminished some of its impact and power due to the need to stop and use an almighty ‘ehhhhh’ to recover your thoughts.

This can also have a noticeable effect on the flow of your speech.An audience may be unable to follow your message, point or argument because of the interruptions caused by the repeated use of filler words.

There is a way to work around this however. Taking a short pause here and there after losing your train of thought can be a useful way of regaining your composure without losing the audience’s attention.

A pause you say?! Doesn’t that flag up to the audience even more than the filler words that you’ve forgotten what to say? It is true that a pause can sometimes feel like this……………………………………………………………………………… and it can seem deafening at that.

But, in reality, the duration of your pause will not seem out of the ordinary to your audience and nowhere near as long as it does for you. It will actually count in your favour because it is a good way to draw your audience in and keep them waiting in suspense for more. It just requires an initial push and a little bit of courage to embrace the pause as an integral and beneficial part of speaking.

It’s not just in speeches and talks, however, where we use filler words. They can even sneak in among everyday conversations with friends and work colleagues.

As the ‘ahs’ and ‘ehs’ are gradually filtered out of your vocabulary you’ll soon find them disappearing likewise from your general discourse, which can be a massive shot in the arm for your confidence.

No longer will that one person who likes to talk over everybody else interrupt you when you are telling a story! The progress you’ve made will be there for all to see…peers will begin to afford you more respect as well as sit up and take notice when you’re speaking!

To find out more and to see in person how the Ah Counter could benefit your speaking skills, come along to a Toastmasters meeting at one of our 18 Toastmasters clubs in Scotland.

Post written by Neil Cameron, VPPR Clyde Communicators