Verbal Tics (Ums and Ahs) and the Cancel Culture

Posted on Posted in Public Speaking

Speech which is rife with verbal tics like um, ah, uh, and er is annoying in whatever language you speak.  If you are guilty of this annoying habit, it is likely that your audience will lose focus on what you are saying – they may even begin to count how many times you utter those ums and an ahs!

If you are speaking Mandarin Chinese in an English-speaking country, however, be very aware of your verbal tics.

Apparently, a professor of business communications in California was discussing verbal tics. He explained that in the Mandarin language, the Chinese say ‘that, that, that, that’ which sounds like a racial slur in English.  The professor was suspended because the dean caved to the student who was offended by the sound of the Chinese verbal tics.  [Of course, when you teach business communications, you are teaching students the manners, the customs, and the styles of other nations which you need to be aware of when conducting international business.  Duh!]

So how do you eliminate them?

First, you should record yourself speaking and study the playback so that you can begin to train your ear to recognize when and how often it is occurring.  Generally, you will find yourself uming or ahing after a group of 5-6 words within a sentence which can have a sing-song effect.  Or maybe it is happening at the end of a thought.

Next, record yourself again.  Whenever you begin to verbalize an um or an ah, pause, and continue minus the tic.  Do this every time you feel the need to include a filler sound.

The same advice applies to those speaking Mandarin Chinese or any other language.

As a voice coach and teacher, I have been writing articles on voice and presentation skills for more than 30 years and have always kept my personal beliefs out of my writings.  But I just couldn’t keep my mouth closed for this one.  Thank goodness I learned how to think in college and not what to think!


For more information on Nancy’s Voice Dynamic Approach, visit her website or email her.