Eliminate “Uhhs” and “Umms” (Part Two)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 25, 2011 – 6:32 AM

Editor’s Note: Last year, we published a two-part series to help you eliminate the “uhhhs” and “ummms” that poison communications. For some technical reason, this article disappeared from the blog, so I’m re-publishing it today. Click here to see part one of the series.  

I began my media career as a small-town radio DJ.

My program director was concerned that I uttered too many “uhhhs” and “umms” on the air. (Oddly, he was unconcerned with his playlist, which included Michael Bolton, Debbie Boone, and The Captain and Tennille.)

But he taught me a technique that helped me find a smooth radio delivery, and it’s a strategy that works for media spokespersons who use a few too many “uhhhs” and “umms” during their interviews.

Here’s how it works. Look around the room and find an object. Don’t think about it. Just find an object and shout it out (e.g. “printer!”).

Now begin speaking about that object for 30 seconds. Time it. You’re not allowed to use “uhhhs” or “ummms,” but you are allowed to briefly pause between sentences. Don’t worry too much about the words you choose – just let the words flow. My 30 second drill about the printer looked like this:

“I like my printer. I’ve had it for about two years, and it’s been pretty maintenance-free, which I really appreciate as someone who runs his own business. It sits on the corner of my desk in my office in New York City. The best part of my office is the view of the Chrysler Building. It’s pretty cool to sit, especially in the winter, and see a Manhattan icon out my office window.”

 You can practice this anywhere – in your car (“ashtray!”), in your shower (“dandruff shampoo!”), and your office (“burnt popcorn smell!”). The key is to surprise yourself with the object, speak aloud for 30 seconds, and replace articulated pauses with silent ones.

Our clients typically think they’ve gotten through the drill with no verbal filler – but the audio replay shows they had two “likes” and a “ya know.” So use a tape recorder or your iPhone’s “Voice Memos” feature to record yourself and ensure the verbal filler is really gone.

You may not master this skill right away – it takes time, practice, and patience. But I promise you – if you stay with it, your delivery will be as smooth as mine was when introducing Lionel Richie ballads back in the day.

Like These Tips? Follow Us on Twitter at @MrMediaTraining.

Related: Eliminate “Uhhhs” and “Uhhhs” (Part One)


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Comments (11)

  1. By Jeff Domansky:

    Uhhh Brad? Great interview advice and training tip, but Ummm really Debbie Boone, Michael Bolton? Whoa.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Jeff – Uhh, yes, ummm, Debbie Boone. You light up my life. You give me hope to carry on. Ugh. 🙂


  3. By Christopher:

    OK, let me try this…..”Debbie Boone!”


    Adult Contemporary was brutal in the 80’s.

    Great drill. Can be done in the car during commercial breaks.

  4. By Ruby Li:

    I joined toastmasters and there is “ah-counter” in toastmasters meeting. I used to be “ah-queen” when i attend the meeting. I think i am habited to use ah,er to cover my nervous. A experienced member told me when you cant help “ah,er’,bite you tongue:) However,all in all, practice makes “ah,er” less and less.

  5. By Erik Bernstein:

    Fantastic drill, even as an experienced speaker I found myself uttering more filler talk than I should’ve been when launching on a surprise topic.

  6. By Brad Phillips:

    Erik – That’s high praise from such an accomplished communicator – thank you. You’re not alone. When I listen back to some of the radio interviews I’ve done, I’m also surprised to find a bit too much verbal filler. The only way I can conquer it is to keep it “top of mind” before the interview begins.

    Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment!


  7. By Mark Grimm:

    Hi Brad.

    This is a very useful suggestion. Even experienced speakers are surprised by the number of “uhs” they use. I include myself in that group.

  8. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you very much for the nice words. I’m guilty of using some verbal filler as well — the real question is whether it distracts the audience.

    I watched the White House briefing this morning, and was stunned how many times Press Secretary Jay Carney used “ummms” and “uhhs” — sometimes as many as eight in a single sentence! I’m sure he’s received media training, but he needs more, stat.


  9. By Kylie Johnson:

    Let’s hope Jay is reading your blog and begs you for help!

  10. By Jonas Ezeanya:

    Your exercise looks effective. The prevalence of speakers who punctuate every phrase they speak with filler words is alarming. In this age, when people suffer information-overload, we must learn to speak with purpose and great clarity. Excessive use of filler words only make things worse

  11. By The Incredible Shrinking Reach | Tips & Tricks:

    […] with “uhs” and “ums?” Try this exercise to speak more fluidly. [with this link as a […]

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