Keep your “ahs” for your doctor or dentist

EDMONTON, AB, Dec 22, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Have you ever found yourself in a meeting, presenting to a client or been on the phone when all of a sudden you’re lost for words or not sure what to say?

We fear silence as being unnatural. Our natural tendency is to avoid dead air or empty space at all costs, so we fill it with crutch words, like “ah”, “um” and “err”. We’ll sometimes repeat words like “Iike-Iike-like”, and “and-and-and’ as we nervously grasp for the next thing to say. Sound familiar?

It doesn’t stop there. Perhaps you might string thoughts together with an “and” a “well” a “like” a “so” or a “you know”, just a few too many times. The truth is, sometimes we’re aware of using them, but all too often they come out naturally and seem almost part of our everyday speech. These crutch words are so commonplace, even on TV and radio, that many believe it’s totally acceptable, not realizing that they may actually be hindering their communication with their customers or intended audience. If you actually spent the time listening for them, you may at first think them funny but you’ll quickly realize how all of these inappropriate interjections truly infringe on the message and break up what’s being said.

There are a number of famous Canadian political figures and a number of news anchors and weathermen who are certainly guilty of this infraction. A couple of our former Canadian Prime Ministers immediately come to mind, like Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien. In fact, shows like This Hours has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce have satirized some of our political figures by exaggerating their habits.

Crutch works can also appear to our customers or audience as a lack of certainty or confidence. And we don’t want that, do we?

The first thing to do to avoid crutch words is to become aware of them. Watch TV or even YouTube videos, record your presentations or ask others to help you listen for them.

Next, whenever possible, practice or rehearse before you speak. Of course you can do this when you’re working on a presentation, but it’s a little impractical in an impromptu situation. When you find yourself geting the urge to use a crutch word, simply pause and say nothing. If you really have to, think it or say it in your head but not aloud. You’ll be amazed how well that works and, in time, you’ll begin to break the habit. Your speaking will become more fluid and you will appear more confident.

To help rid you of the “ahs” and “ums”, visit a Toastmasters Club. At every meeting a member is assigned the role as “Ah-Counter.” He will listen attentively for any crutch words and report them at the end of the meeting. In fact, to act as a deterrent, some clubs will levy a fine of $0.25 for five or more infractions. Don’t worry, however, guests are always exempt.

I used to pay the “paltry pizza pig” every week (The quarters are deposited into a ceramic piggy bank and at the end of the year used to buy pizza for the club). Eventually I was cured, not only did it help my pocketbook, my speeches flowed much smoother.

You can listen to the podcast of this article below.

Senior Editor Greg Gazin is a Syndicated Veteran Tech Columnist and Small Business and Technology Speaker. Greg is also a Distinguished Toastmaster, a Past Toastmasters District Governor and an 11-year member of the New Entrepreneurs Toastmasters. He can be reached at Gadgetguy.CA on Twitter @gadgetgreg or you can find him on Empire Avenue at (e)GADGET1. Why not book Greg to speak at your next event? You can contact him at

© Troy Media & Greg Gazin

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