How to Stop Saying Um – and Gain Instant Credibility

Communicating in a Social Media World
August 16, 2018

Everyone says it…sometimes a lot…but that doesn’t make it easier on the ears.

“Um” is a word that we seem to hear more and more often in the water world. For one thing, more people are speaking publicly at a growing number of industry conferences, ad-hoc groups and legislative hearings.

Also many of the presenters don’t regularly speak in public.Add to that our inability to prepare as we should because we’re time-starved.

And there’s a trend toward more casual communication in general. Social media has no doubt contributed to the relaxation in rules.


We say um because:

  • We’re afraid of silence
  • We don’t know what to say next
  • We want to signal that we’re going to keep speaking
  • We need to plan our next few words or hunt for something in our memory
  • We’re trying to think and talk at the same time - this is why it happens more often during transitions to a new topic or at the beginning of a sentence

Unfortunately, um achieves little and annoys much.

Worst of all, it weakens your message.

To be clear – saying um now and then is fine. We all do, it’s natural.

The problem is saying it too often. Then it’s a distraction or worse – a roadblock to understanding your message.

So, how do we say it less often? Here are some ways.

  1. Know what you want to say – organize your thoughts and focus on key messages so you can be more succinct
  2. Prepare…prepare…prepare – practice your presentation until you’re relaxed and confident
  3. Keep your sentences short and simple - stick with basic structure, subject and verbs
  4. Speak more slowly – if in doubt, listen to Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy
  5. Don’t be afraid of silence – it is golden
  6. Anticipate Q and A
    • Know your key messages
    • Use bridging mechanisms

These practices build credibility because you are seen as an intentional speaker.

One last thing – don’t obsess over your ums. Worrying about what you just said can trip up the next thing you’re going to say.

Let it go and carry on!

Next month - how to talk about risk.

If you would like to communicate more effectively, please call or text me at 512.797.9925 or email me at