Friday, February 27, 2009

The new “Ahh” / Umm

Several years ago I belonged to a Toastmasters group, which for those who don’t know is a group of people coming together every few weeks to assist and support each other in the craft of public speaking. It also served to help desensitize being in uncomfortable settings. I was in a job search to become an executive director of a non-profit organization and while I had done some speaking and presentations, I was on the shy side and needed a boost in that area.

I belonged for about a year and had to drop out when the demands of my new job (as executive director and CEO of a good sized non profit), and the commute and new kids left little time.

At each meeting people delivered speeches or presentations that they had prepared and the group critiqued and gave suggestions feedback about what went very well and on how the speech or delivery could be improved. While I am still very much on the shy side (to the surprise of some people who have heard me speak publicly or work with me professionally), belonging to this group was a great experience that has paid off significantly over the years.

A position designated for each meeting was the “ah counter”. Someone designated to listen carefully with pen in hand and track the number of times “Ah” or “Um” were used during the speech. The objective was to train you to either take a legitimate pause or work on transitions in the speech so that you weren’t relying on these common devices, as they take away from the message you are delivering.

Though years have gone by this exercise of having someone count my “ah”s and “um”s and me bring the counter a few times, this lesson has stayed with me and I am very conscious of using these transition crutches and also notice it when others speak. I am sure I still use them occasionally but significantly less than if I wasn’t attuned.

You now are perhaps asking, what is the new “ahh” that I have titled this? It is the word “so”.

Now that I have pointed it out pay attention to the number of times that people will use this word as sort of a hanger at the end of the sentence until they think of what else they want to say. Sometimes the word is appropriate but sometimes it just verbally hangs there in space at the end of a sentence or becomes the lead off of the sentence when it doesn’t need to be or the sentence is solid enough to stand by itself.

So……….[gotcha] a personal goal of mine is to reduce my own use of this word as a transition or hanger and intro and to let what I have to say either stand on its own or end on its own. Before editing this I found that I used this a couple more times, not counting the one in this paragraph, and either deleted them or rephrased until it sounded better to me. Want to join my cause? We can be known as “so" counters.

3 comments:

Happy Days said...

Jeff, So! no wonder you have such a silver tongue. I thought I was leaving you a comment regarding the wonderful words you left for "Ms GraySea" on your blog, but they came up on hers. So! I decided to leave you a little note here. What you said was just great and I'm sure she appreciates hearing from you. Such wise and sweet words. So, yeah, I'll join the "So Counter Club". I yell at my kids all the time for ahhs & umms and that dreaded word "like". I hate that one. I do enjoy your writings and will continue to stop by...debbie

Happy Days said...

I forgot something. After I read your Post dated August 30, 2008, which I really enjoyed, I thought you might like to read a post I wrote dated Sunday, Dec. 28,2008. They are not exactly the same, but the thread "of giving to your fellow man" is the same. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it...debbie

Jeff- in the Berkshires said...

thanks for the comments and compliment. I also did see the comment on Ms Graysea.

Jeff