Taming Your Verbal Clutter

Practice makes perfect – Practice also become permanent.

How do you tame your verbal clutter? Verbal clutter is the result when we use unnecessary filler words in our communication. We all use them subconsciously without realizing the impact they have on our presentations. They become a distraction, causing your message to be lost. Listeners tune you out when your message is cluttered with unnecessary fillers: (ahs, uh, em err), Interjections (and, well, but, so, like, you know), cliches, and repeated words. Verbal clutter is habit-forming. We use them primarily when we are unsure about what to say or what we should say next. In place of silence, we hesitate and fill the moment with verbal clutter, filler words.

Fixing bad habits perfected over time takes practice. First, you must be aware of your tendency to use fillers and when they occur. Adding silence to your vocabulary is a good first step. Get comfortable with silence. When you are on the speaking platform, practice treating silence with the same importance as the spoken word. If you are writing a speech, indicate silence with white spaces. In Toastmaster, we count the number of times speakers use fillers or interjections unnecessarily in their presentation. When your fillers and interjections counts are high, your clarity is low. The use of fillers is also a sign of nervousness or lack of preparation.

Observing punctuation marks when you are speaking is a practice all speakers should adopt. Just as we punctuate a written speech, speakers should be mindful of your verbal punctuation. A full stop can be a long or a pregnant pause – a comma, a quick break, or a short breather. Special care should be taken with the use of commas. They can change the meaning of a sentence if used stylistically to separate a sentence’s grammatical components. Care must be given to your verbal punctuation, written or spoken. Winston Churchill, one of the great orators of our century, was once given a speech to critique. He took one look at the script and said it was a bad speech. When asked why, Churchill said, “not enough white spaces.” White spaces are key indicators of how your presentation will sound when delivered.

Filler, interjections, and repeated words can be avoided by practicing how you deliver opening remarks – your first words matter. Practice making a statement or question, the first words out of your mouth. Add body language before you begin speaking. React physically before you respond verbally. A physical gesture could be a smile or facial expression to indicate your feelings to telegraph your verbal response. Use that physical reaction as a confidence builder to give yourself enough time to formulate a statement or question in response to the topic being addressed.

Building confidence comes with practice. Practice makes perfect – Practice also become permanent. Over time, your practices become part of your persona, especially when you are on the platform. Fillers, interjections, and repeated words will evaporate from your vocabulary, and the authentic you will begin to flourish as you tame your verbal clutter. Your confidence will increase whether you are on or off the platform. In the world of public speaking, less is more. Speak in short sentences. Control your breathing. Be at ease when you speak. When you are at ease, you will put your audience at ease. Reduce your usage of overused words like clearly, honestly, truly, and cliches. Observe your own habits, both the good and bad practices, and habits of other speakers. The more you look, the more you will see. Take corrective action, and your confidence will grow as you continue taming your verbal clutter.

Seasons Greetings to you and yours

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmasters in 1997. He is presently a member of 4 Toastmasters clubs; two in Santa Cruz and two in San Jose. He is a DTM-4. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ whose speechwriting approach is similar to his approach to songwriting.

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