Toastmaster Tips: Replacing the "Um" & "Like" in Speeches

“She was like . . . And I was like . . . But we were all . . . Um . . . ” These were the highlights of an overhead conversation between two twenty-somethings on a bus. By the time we reached their stop, the amount of “ums” and “likes” each had uttered was staggering . . . triple digits.

Filler words. They are something I wouldn’t have noticed in other people’s speech prior to Toastmasters. The reason? I am a closet filler user.  Typically, it only comes out when I visit my mom and sister, but every once in a while my dependency on the useless words creep into my speeches.

Why Do We Use Fillers?
Steven D. Cohen, an award-winning speaker who leads career and academic workshops on public speaking at Harvard Extension School, believes we have been conditioned to answer questions immediately from an early age. We feel the urge to speak when spoken to.

Filler words are commonly used when we begin talking and as a transition between ideas. According to Seth Godin, it’s our way to “keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker.” Or so that the other person won’t jump in the moment you pause. It’s a way of keeping the floor.

At least it explains why I use it comes out with gusto around my talkative family members.

How Do We Replace the “Um” and “Like”?
1) Remind yourself that the person you are talking to (or the audience) isn’t waiting to steal the microphone from you. You have the floor.
2) When practicing your speech, talk as slowly as you need to. When transitioning ideas or verbally considering your next word — PAUSE. THINK. PROCEED.
3) Eventually, your speech will get faster . . . minus the ums.

Note that we aren’t “replacing” the fillers with alternate words but adding silence to your dialogue or speech. Oddly the way to move your speech forward is by not saying a word.


Start Your New Year on a Positive Note: Win Jars

Happy New Year's 2016The year is winding to an end and many of us have started planning for 2016. We are evaluating our lives, dreams and agendas. We  are writing down goals, making resolutions and researching ways to take our dreams to the next level.

Goals are necessary. They help us to make decisions that enable our forward progress. Goals give us the finish line on a marathon to work towards.

While we are looking forward, focused on the big goal, it’s easy to overlook  the progress we have made when we have so far to go. It’s easy to look at the roadmap and only see the distance left and not the milestones we have passed. Continue reading “Start Your New Year on a Positive Note: Win Jars”

Speaking Outside the Club

Public Speaking OpportunitesMy mentor recently told me that I should extend my learning curve and seek opportunities to speak outside the club. Terrified. The suggestion absolutely terrified me to the core.

Every Morningstar Toastmaster has something in common: We all joined the self-development program to improve public speaking and communication skills. Some of us have careers or roles in the community where we can flex our new speaking skill set, such as client demos or meetings.

What about the rest of us? Are you using what you’ve learned outside the club environment?

How do you go about doing it? Schedule a weekly speech for the listening pleasure of my feline? Ask Mike to pull up a chair at the breakfast bar? As part of Christmas Eve festivities with my family in North Carolina?

There is a certain sense of security in creating speeches and delivering them in the warm, friendly environment of the weekly Toastmaster meetings. Familiar faces make it feel like giving a speech before family and friends. There’s a safety net in knowing that every single smiling face wants you to succeed.

Eventually, there comes a time when we all need to stretch our verbal skills and venture beyond the walls of Harmony Hall. To take that step onto the stage in the “real world.”

I recently had the opportunity to watch one of our Morningstars shine in such a scenario. Our own Ria Q. recently delivered a nine-minute speech as part of the PowHERTalks series in Sechelt. Ria and 16 other women took the stage to talk about their passions, transformations and goals. It was a moving experience. (Brief pause to congratulate Ria on her amazing speech! Mad props!)

So moving, in fact, I went home and applied for the next engagement in Vancouver. I filled out the online application . . . hit send. That’s when the anxiety set in. What would I talk about? Could I talk about something for nine minutes? In a room full of strangers?

Although my application wasn’t selected, I consider the fact that I applied a win. Applying to get up on the stage in front of strangers isn’t something I would have considered six months ago. The fact that I did, tells me that perhaps my mentor was right. Perhaps it is time I learn to fly outside the club.

If you are in a similiar situation, here are a few ways we can engage others outside of Harmony Hall, courtesy of

* Community groups (Rotary, Legion, schools) are often looking for speakers for special events.
* Conference organizers seek good speakers with excellent programs related to the theme
* Check event centers, the Coast Community Calendar and hotels to discover meetings where they may need a presenter, speaker or MC
* Create your own venue. Organize your own workshop, event. FUSE and the Arts Building are always looking for new classes, workshop opportunities to offer the community.

For more information, visit this article “Beyond the Club Experience” (on p. 22).