What is getting in the way?

Recently, I have been doing a lot of work around presentation and communication skills with very senior executives who want to elevate or polish their skills, to professionals who are really challenged with how they communicate and present, especially when presenting to upper management.

Effective communication is especially important for those in leadership and management roles, but it is also critical for our ability to advance within any organization. Yet, it is very rarely “taught”. One of my new clients, who is investing in someone on his team with a series of twelve executive coaching sessions, said he tried to teach his direct report how to improve, but found himself ill-equipped to make an impact.

There are dozens of tools and techniques to become a more effective communicator. One of my favorites is to be more of yourself, more authentic. Develop your own unique communication style and start to become hyper aware of your own communication ticks or bad habits. When in doubt, tape record and/or video tape yourself. What needs improvement? What is getting in the way of becoming a more effective communicator?


Your ability to communicate is an important tool in your pursuit of your goals, whether it is with your family, your co-workers or your clients and customers.

Les Brown, Author

The other day, there was an essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled: Our Hesitations in Speech Are Much More Than Filler. Written by Dr. Fridland who is a professor of Linguistics at the University of Nevada, Reno, she studied when people use um and uh in speech, referring to them as filled pauses.

What she learned is that people use um or uh when they are deciding between competing

word options, formulating what they want to say, signaling that your brain is processing what to say and giving them time to think. She also mentioned other research from the 90s on um and uh that shows the two “words” are used in different contexts, um to signal a longer pause and uh for a shorter pause.

But here’s the thing: so what? All of Dr. Fridland’s research and conclusions are rooted in the study of linguistics, which is all quite interesting, BUT when talking about effective communication, um and uh are a big challenge for the listener. Using them is a habit, and with effort, you can eliminate the use of um, uh, like, so or any other filler word.

In fact, pausing is far better than hearing filler words that add no value. When you do not know what word to choose or want to give the listener time to process what you are saying, PAUSE. It will make you sound infinitely more polished and professional. Filler words are distracting, they dilute the message and make the audience work harder to hear what the speaker is actually trying to say.

And Finally...

I was working with one of my clients who is under a lot of pressure with a new manager. His speech was articulate and thoughtful until he started talking about his new boss, then his speech was peppered with um. His stress was showing up in his word choice and all of a sudden he no longer sounded confident and polished.

Outside the world of linguistics, I strongly believe that we should work to eliminate filler words from our speech to be a more effective communicator. What is the filler word you use all the time? If you don’t know, record yourself. Increase your awareness about what you are saying, then every time you use a filler word, take a drink or snap a rubber band on your wrist. Be intentional about breaking the habit. Your listeners will thank you.

Have a great week.
Mary Jo

To learn more about my 1:1 executive, communication or business growth coaching, custom virtual workshops, the Career Transition program or just to connect, you can reach me at [email protected]