Keep your “ahs” for your doctor or dentist

EDMONTON, AB, March 6, 2016/ 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.

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

There are a number of famous political figures and a number of news anchors and weathermen who are certainly guilty of this infraction. Celebrities like Britney Spears or a significant number of award winners who make their way to the podium to collect their trophies.  Even our Canadian Prime Ministers immediately come to mind like Justin Trudeau, 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. Former U.S. President Barack Obama also uses them, although you might say somewhat eloquently.

Regardless as to how you disguise them, don’t use filler words in front of Judge Judy. she will not be impressed and she’ll tell you so.

Another thing to consider is the amount of information we’re bombarded with everyday. It seems that for some people, their attention span rivals that of a goldfish. Myth or not, why would we want to waste precious time verbalizing  useless crutch and filler words?

But, ah, so, you-know, what is one supposed to do?

I discovered 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, try this: simply pause and say nothing. If you really have to, think it or say it in your head but not aloud. After a few times, 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.

You can also try an appropriately named app called Ummo. It’s touted as “Your Personalized Speech coach.” (We previously interviewed the creators in a previous podcast.)

Even better, to help rid yourself of the “ahs” and “ums”, join  Toastmasters. It’s an organization that for over 95 years has been helping people become better speakers and leaders. At every meeting a member is assigned the role as “Ah-Counter.” He or she will listen attentively for any crutch words, note them 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 flow much smoother now.

You can listen to a podcast of this article below or catch it at

2019 UPDATE: It appears the UMMO app is no longer available at the App Store. It is apparently current being reworked.

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 17-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

*Original version published December 2013.

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