Just how dreadful is it to say "um" and "like" to an audience

Mary Fung cured me from saying "um" when I was still a teenager.  Here's what she would do:

  1. Count out loud each time I said um
  2. Tell me how silly I sounded
  3. Tell anyone within earshot how silly I sounded

This is what any good Tiger Mom and in her case - Dragon Lady Mom would have done.

I am a little kinder with my kids.  They don't say "um".  They say "like".  They say it so much that I now say it.  Even though I don't like it (pun intended).  Here are some of the tactics I've urged them to try:

  1. Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it each time you say "like"
  2. Record yourself and hear how many times you say "like" and it will convince you to stop
  3. Occasionally they will let me count them but this usually lasts for about an hour before they say stop.

So far nothing has worked.  And yes, there are actually moments during a solemn trial when I sound just "like" Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde.

Just how awful is it to use a filler word or say like "um" or "like" when speaking in public.

Well, if you ask anyone they will tell you it sounds bad.  The speaker is anxious or unprepared or grasping to sound believable.

But in reality when measuring how an audience is listening, they are not that obsessed or distracted by the filler words.   If used in moderation.  And if the talk is interesting.  (Two big "ifs").

An interesting psychological analysis can be found in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 19(3), Fall 1995.  Conclusion:  if you are talking about something interesting, the audience will overlook the prevalence of fillers - if they are not too prevalent.

So exactly how perfect am I in trial.  Well, from time to time I use "um" and "like" and other sounds or words that may not be properly grammatical.  This is because I am who I am. Like it or not.

Research Paper:  http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~nchristenfeld/Publications_files/DoUmsHurt.pdf