Are ahs and ums OK?

Ahs and ums have long been considered the bane of public speakers. In Toastmasters, we have a person at each meeting who is in charge of counting such verbal fillers so we can learn how to reduce them. But according to an article in the Daily Mail, experts at Stirling and Edinburgh Universities say that such sounds (which they call “disfluencies”) may actually make speeches more memorable and easier to recall.

Before you get too excited and start using ahs and ums like you’re an NFL linebacker being interviewed on ESPN, you may want to read the reader comments at the bottom on the Daily Mail online article. I especially agree with one by Peter from London, “When I listen to someone who uses ‘ums’ and ‘errs’, I turn off and they cease to have any credibility. To me it’s a very bad method of communication.”

Perhaps using a lot of ahs and ums may make your speech memorable. You can also make your speech memorable by passing gas in the middle of it. This doesn’t mean that you will get your message across or build the impression you intend to make. Your goal is to make your message memorable. Ahs and ums are distractions that take the audience’s attention away from your speech.

A more effective way to make your speech memorable is to organize it properly and state your points at the beginning and the end. Also, using vocal variety and pauses can help the audience focus without depending on distractions.

The Daily Mail uses the Hugh Grant scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral as an example of someone who uses a lot of “disfluencies.” But we remember this as a funny scene of verbal blundering, not eloquence. As speakers, we want the audience to remember our words, not our ahs and ums.