5 Ways To Eliminate Ums and Improve Your Public Speaking Credibility

You want your presentations to show others that you’re credible, confident, and engaging. Using disfluencies such as um, uh, ah, eh, er, etc. erodes your speech.

They bore audiences and make them question if you know what you’re talking about.

Think you don’t use disfluencies? Use your Smartphone to record yourself; you may be surprised by the results.

1. A Millisecond of Silence is OK

Speakers often insert disfluencies when they glance at notecards, or take a second to recall something. This timeframe is actually milliseconds, but when you’re in front of an audience it seems like ten minutes, so you may feel that you need to say something, and you insert “um” or another similar filler. It’s OK to have milliseconds of silence in your presentation, the audience won’t notice. Worst case scenario: your pause is too long and the audience notices, but it’s still better for them to notice silence than notice you saying “Um, ah, er…”

2. Know Your Transitions

When writing your speech, write great transitions and rehearse your speech with these transitions. That may seem obvious but many folks only rehearse the points they are trying to make in a speech rather than the speech as a whole, and this often leads to using disfluencies during transitions.

3. Storytelling & Chronological Order

Storytelling is beneficial in any speech, and you are less likely to use disfluencies when you tell a story. You’re also less likely to use them when your presentation includes a chronological order of events, a step-by-step guide, a cause and effect scenario, or other logical path. These paths don’t work for every speech, but if you have the option to use a logical path in delivery, take it. Not only will it create less disfluencies, it’s also easier for the audience to follow.

4. Preparation

The more preparation you put into your speech, the better the speech will be. Write a great speech and rehearse it repeatedly at the speed that you’re going to say it. Nerves can sometimes cause speakers to increase their speed, and when you present at a fast pace you’re more likely to use disfluencies. The more you rehearse, the more confident you’ll be and the more familiar you’ll be with your speech.

5. Gesture

Never do a speech with your hands in your pockets, behind your back, crossed in front of you, etc. In addition to the fact that this is negative body language for your audience, it disallows you to gesture, and this can increase disfluencies. Gestures are an important part of communication. If you do say “um” in your speech, don’t panic, just keep going. It may take a few speeches before you’ve filtered it out.

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Thank you so much for this article, especially #1. As someone who presents, and trains people to present interpretive tours, I am especially annoyed by the “ums”. I find myself counting them instead of listening to the content! I always instruct my students to pause rather than try to fill that second. I couldn’t agree more regarding your suggestion!

Roderick Santiago

Yup. It is indeed obvious. However, it is to address inadequate preparation (including reference research, rehearsals, audience expectation, just to name a few). Not everyone is good at just ad-lib or hastily prepared speeches/presentations so I think the advice is sound.


Well said Debbie. I have been offering students the same advice for years. New speakers, teachers, presenters need to read this.


Another great opportunity to practice getting rid of those “ums” and whatever filler words/phrases such as “you know” is Toastmasters International.