Some people say “like” and “you know” so often that you want to strangle them. Others say “um” often and enthusiastically. Some people swallow nervously and spasmodically. Some people let their voice swing up in pitch at the end of every sentence as if they were always asking questions. For some, it’s happy feet – wandering around the stage as if they really loved walking and couldn’t wait to get off the platform. - Nick Morgan, "Do You Have a Speaking Tic?"
How many of us have sat through a briefing or training and started quietly counting the verbal tics of the speaker to pass the time?
How often did you completely miss the main point of the presentation as a result?
Let's face it: verbal tics can thwart a person's effectiveness and paralyze a person's career.
And the worst part: we often aren't aware of our own stutters and stumbles.
For instance, I feel like I find myself saying the word "actually" quite a bit while I am presenting. It's sub-conscious, but I sense it.
Another problem is that your audience typically won't tell you that you're doing it. They strive to be respectful and don't want to point out a flaw to avoid causing offense.
That's why I'd recommend you ask a trusted teammate if you have one - somebody who is often in meetings with you and hears you speak in public regularly. If they haven't noticed one, request that they start paying attention and share their observations.
If they identify one, here are three quick ways to squash it (which I'm borrowing from speaking coach Nick Morgan)
1) Compensate a "Counter" - Pay your colleague some relatively painful amount -- like $5 or $10 -- for every time you do or say something that they've identified as annoying to the audience. You'll make yourself aware of it (and you'll make yourself a bit poorer if you don't fix it fast).
2) Capture the Culprit on Camera - Is there any way for you to get someone to videotape you so that you can observe yourself? Can you get your hands on the recording from an event where you spoke recently? Can you practice a speech in advance and capture it with your webcam? Nothing is more painful (and potentially productive) than observing yourself and discovering the behaviors that render you less effective as a communicator.
3) Correct in Conversation - You can also just practice a little self-monitoring in your day-to-day conversation. When you feel the urge to fill silence with meaningless mumbles, pause. Stop and wait for the next word to come - it might feel awkward at first, but it's likely better than losing a person's attention (or respect). Sometimes you really do say it best when you say nothing at all.
What have you identified as the most egregious verbal and non-verbal gaffes in others?
How have you uncovered and overcome your own troubling tics?