Recently, I had the privilege to take up the role of “Ah-Counter” for the recent chapter meeting in my Toastmaster Club. Simply, Ah-Counter’s role is to count the number of pause fillers that the speakers utter in their speeches. At the end of the meeting, I, as Ah-Counter, will give an Ah-Counter report, indicating the number of pause fillers each speaker made.
So what is pause fillers? According to wiki,
In linguistics, a filler is a sound or word that is spoken in conversation by one participant to signal to others that he/she has paused to think but has not yet finished speaking…. Different languages have different characteristic filler sounds; in English, the most common filler sounds are uh /ʌ/, er /ɜː/ and um /ʌm/. Among youths, the fillers “like”, “y’know”, “I mean”, “so”, “actually”, “literally”, “basically”, “right”, “I’m tellin’ ya” and “you know what I mean?” are among the more prevalent. Ronald Reagan was famous for answering questions starting with “Well…”
Yes, pause fillers are parasites in your speech that serve no purpose or meaning, and they add distraction and annoyance to the listeners. I remembered one senior executive in my company (and since left the company), in his many great speeches, will begin and end every sentence with “you know”, and it annoyed me much that I would scream out “I KNOW!” every time (in my heart of course).
Though one quick search on Internet revealed that the “you know” problem is quite common among public speaking. One example, back in 2008, Caroline Kennedy – candidate of US Senate and daughter of the late United States President John F. Kennedy, gave a 30 minutes interview which according to the report, she uttered “you know” more than 200 times! (She withdrawn from the candidacy for various reasons after that dreadful interview)
Of course, I have my fair share of “you know” problem, more specifically, mine is a “like” problem. Someone once pointed out to me that my favorite filler is “like”, which psychologically, is a sign of unsure.
So back to Ah-Counter report, how was the result? I counted total 129 pause fillers, among 12 speakers, averaging around 11 per speaker, though the variant was huge, with one first time speaker peppered total of 52 “ah” and “erm” within a 4 minutes speech and few seasoned speakers completed their speech with zero fillers. Not bad I think.
Since that night, I started to reduce fillers consciously in my speech and at the same time, unconsciously count the number of fillers by other presenters in speeches, conference calls and even meetings. So if you happened to be in the same room as I, do check with me and get an “Ah” counter report.
Here are some good posts on eliminating the “ah”: