Monday, June 28, 2010

Evisceration of a Presentation or Interview by Relentless Use of Filler Words and Other Tics; A Flood of “You Knows” In an NPR Interview Last Week

Did you listen to the interview with author Kevin Michael Connolly on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” this past Saturday, June 26? If you did, chances are that you came away quite irritated by the unending stream of “you knows” from the guest. During the approximately 8-minute interview, there were at least 29 “you knows,” sometimes as many as three in a single sentence. You can take a listen by clicking here:

The overabundance of filler words such as you know, basically, essentially, um, severely weakens, even cripples, a presentation or other important oral communication. According to my research, when a disfluency runs riot during a presentation or other communication, 40% to 60% of the listeners are unable to stay focused on the speaker’s message. Why? Because many in the audience start counting the number of occurrences of that particular verbal tic.

Indeed, while presenting my popular module “Diminishers: Communication traits that sharply reduce one’s effectiveness and affect others’ perception of your competence,” whenever I ask participants for their pet peeves, the “overuse of filler words” almost always tops the list.

The problem of verbal tics getting the better of one’s communications is pervasive, and it seems to occur just as much in senior executives as in newly minted college grads. For instance, during his interview on CBS’s “60 minutes” a few months ago, one of America’s top scientists began every sentence with the word “actually.”

Verbal idiosyncrasies such as those cited above are not pathological, and can be cured with some simple steps. People who have been employing filler words ad nauseam for years, even decades, have been doing so partly because no one--neither friends nor colleagues--summon the courage or will to point them out. And the reason for the latter: Fear of causing offense and possibly even ruining a friendship. Not surprisingly, whenever I point out such a mannerism or quirk to an executive or other professional whom I am coaching, their reaction is one of genuine surprise, their typical response being “I had no idea!”

Soon, I will be posting some specific recommendations on how to expunge these annoying and diminishing verbal traits from your “system” so that you can avoid a miscarriage or serious undermining of your presentation or interview.

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