5 Ways to Get Rid of the "Ums" When Presenting Online

Last Updated May 17, 2010 7:15 AM EDT

Odds are at some point you've been on a webmeeting or teleconference, trying to pay attention (really trying, turned off the email and everything), and been driven to distraction by the speaker constantly saying "ummm" or "errrr". Odds are equally good that at one time or another you've been that presenter.

Human beings use these fillers for a lot of reasons. Mainly we convince ourselves that filling the dead spaces with uhhhhhh sound smarter than saying nothing at all. We're wrong, of course. What happens is we can sound uncertain, unconvincing and more than a little annoying to our poor audience. People might question your grasp of the subject or your credibility.

Online it's even worse since what the audience has to base their perception of us on is skewed towards our vocal quality rather than our physical presence.

Here are some tips for getting rid of the fillers:

  • Pause. Just Pause. Really, stop talking. Human beings fear pauses in conversation. We might sound like we don't know what we're saying, or someone might jump in and interrupt us. The fact is that time is relative (Einstein once said that a second with your hand on a hot stove feels like an hour, an hour with a pretty girl feels like a second- and he should know about relativity). Pauses feel much longer to the speaker than they do for the audience. When you've said what you have to say stop talking, visualize the first word of the next sentence and start cleanly with that word.
  • Don't move the mouse and speak at the same time. Despite what it says on your resume, you don't multitask very well. It is very difficult to move the mouse during a demo, say, or advance the slides on your web presentation and focus on what you're saying. Pause, click, resume.
  • Break your script or notes into small chunks. One of the most common reasons even good speakers sometimes have to fill "dead air" is that they lose their place in their notes and have to look for their next point. If you have a script, don't write it out in big paragraphs. you'll eventually lose your place and have to hunt through it to find where you left off. Visually break it into bullet points and have lots of white space on your page so you can easily find the information you're looking for.
  • Take a break by letting others speak. If you speak for a long time without feedback or a break, your brain will demand time out. Make your meeting or presentation more conversational than "presentation style" if possible.
  • Practice with the tool so you get comfortable. It is impossible to be aware of what you're doing as a presenter if your brain is in a panic about which button to push and wondering if your audience is seeing your presentation properly. By getting comfortable with the presentation platform you free up the mental bandwidth to concentrate on your content.
In years of teaching people how to present effectively online, we have seldom found a problem so crippling to credibility and connection with the audience and so easily solved. Drop the ummms and fillers and you'll be amazed at the increased impact you have on your listeners.

photo by flickr user dawnzy58 CC 2.0