One thing that plagues some speakers is a frequent use of what is sometimes called “verbal graffiti.” That includes those “ums,” “likes,” “you-knows” and similar words that a lot of people say while they’re thinking of exactly what they want to say next. Those words detract from the professionalism of speakers and certainly don’t do anything to enhance the audience’s listening experience. Done too often they become irritating and will obscure the meaning of the speech itself.
There are other kinds of verbal graffiti in speeches as well, words needlessly added which don’t add to the meaning but sometimes create a different impression. For example, making a statement and then adding “OK?” Or adding “right?” This conveys a lack of confidence the speaker has in her or his ability to communicate the message well, as if needing reassurance. It also can be seen as less than certain belief that the listener can comprehend the information.
One other habit people fall into when communicating is using words that qualify what they’re trying to say. The speaker may think they are helping clarify something but they often are watering down the intended meaning. An example would be when putting “I think” before a recommendation on what should be done, saying “I think this would be the best course of action” instead of declaring “This would be the best course of action.” Another is inserting a “maybe” within a statement of which choice is recommended, such as “Maybe we should start today” instead of “We should start today.” One more is to say "just" as in "I just want to do this" instead of "I want to do this." What each of these does is to take some of the power and authority out of the declaration or recommendation. If the listener feels less power in it, she or he may not feel the speaker is really certain about the statement.
There are lots of other examples of verbal graffiti that can intrude into people’s speaking patterns, but which undermine their communication to some extent. Since the aim of communication is to clearly convey thoughts and ideas from one person to the next, it behooves speakers to eliminate anything that works against that.
Like any habit, it is possible to break it. It first takes an awareness that it’s happening, and what form the habit is taking. With that awareness and attention, speakers can begin anticipating when they are about to use their own graffiti during conversation or speeches, and begin resisting that crutch. If there is a need to gather thoughts before proceeding, a pause of thinking will appear more professional than a careless sound to fill the space.
Since these patterns generally invade all our communication, not simply public speaking, it’s possible to observe behavior during private conversations to start eliminating them. Simply paying closer attention to yourself during phone conversations will go a long way to both identifying the problem and seeing how you can minimize the graffiti next time. If you are leaving a message on someone’s voice-mail and it allows you to listen to your message before you approve and send it, take that option. Listen to what you just said and check whether graffiti was there.
As you build the awareness, you will gain more command of the words you are about to say and start being able to focus on reducing those and speaking more directly to the core message.