The Dreaded Ummmm


Eliminating the Dreaded ‘Ummm’

By now, we’ve realised the importance of preparation for meetings and presentations; ensuring you’ve compiled your notes and learned the data back to front.

But what happens when:
– You’re thrown an unexpected curve ball question
– Your participants look confused once you’ve finished speaking
– Your presentation skills lack confidence

That’s where ‘The Dreaded Ummmm’ comes in.

That tiny but terrifying human interjection that says so much with so little.

There are actually three types of “TBU”: the first where the “Um” falls on you, and the second when the “Um” comes from the participants; where the “Um” falls on them. The final ‘Um’ is the vocal “go-to” many of us start our sentences with.

The good news is there are a few quick and easy ways to save your self in each of these scenarios, and we give you a few handy tips and explanations on all three below.

Let’s start with the Um falling on you.

You’re at an interview with a prospective client. You’ve shown them the presentation you’ve worked on, you’ve gone through the data and things seem to be going well. You’re about to have this deal in the bag when they hit you with a tech question about the software you’re using, but you’ve just pitched your finished product to them.

A curve ball question is typically a question designed to test your logic or knowledge in certain scenarios but seemingly has nothing to do with the business you’re currently conducting.
They are generally opportunist questions to set you aside from the competition and see how well you can think on your toes – an important skill every entrepreneur should develop.

The Stall:
If you know the answer to the question but your mind has drawn a complete blank, an ‘Um’ here will sway your confidence a little. Instead, smile; take a deep breath, and do The Stall.

Made famous by politicians the world over, The Stall bides you a couple more seconds as you get your brain in gear. Slow your speech all the way down, thank them for their question and compliment them on how well they asked the question.

You’ve just bought yourself at least 20-30 seconds of internal thinking time on how to best to answer the question. Use it wisely and take another deep breath before you answer.

The Stall however is not going to do much if you truly don’t know the answer to the question, and there is no shame in that. Feel confident as you answer you don’t know the specifics in that area, however you’d be able to email those figures through after you conduct some brief research.

Sounds a lot better than sitting there saying “Ummm…”, doesn’t it?

The Um Falling On Them.

You’ve overcome your presentation nerves and used them to your advantage, and you think you’re hitting a home run. The last slide on your presentation clicks off and you turn back with a huge smile on your face to see the reaction of the room.

Uh oh.

The Um here as we previously touched on is generally due to your concept either not being displayed in an appealing way, or they like the idea but you haven’t explained it eloquently enough. There’s suddenly an atmosphere of vague confusion.

As horrible as that moment is, this is a great learning opportunity. You can now get your audience to participate and clear up any misunderstandings.

“I’m sensing some hesitation, can you let me know which parts you’d like me to explain further?”

“I’m happy to explain my concept in a more relatable way, where are you guys stuck?”

Questions like this help you get feedback on which of your points need some reworking to present better for future meetings. Remember them and write them down as soon as you can. Pointers like this are absolutely invaluable.

Answering confidently here as you respond to their concerns or clear up any details shows you know what you’re selling, whether that be a product, service or yourself.

The Vocal Go-To.

The final and most important “Um” we’ll look at today relates to the vocal interjection the majority of us make at the beginning of a spoken sentence.

It’s important to remember your personal “Um” may instead be a “Like”, “Uh”, “Yeah”, “So” or even nervous giggling. These filler interjections are fine in normal everyday conversations, but they have absolutely no place in presentations and meetings.

On that note however, identifying how often you use your personal Um in everyday conversations will help you to eliminate using them in your professional life.

They are generally an automatic response we give without thinking, however top public speakers recommend removing these from your vocabulary completely, so your listeners can focus solely on the information you’re presenting.

Have a go practising something you might say during a presentation with and without your go-to Um:

“Um… Our Marketing department is currently looking uh, into that department right now”.

“That’s a great question, Sarah; our Marketing department is exploring those avenues as we speak”.

The same thing has been said here, but immediately; we have more confidence in the second sample. When you exude confidence, you also receive it back.

As a species, we fear silence a little bit. As children, it is drilled into us to “speak when spoken to” and consequently, we always feel we have to answer immediately. We feel we are inconveniencing others in making them wait for our response, but think about it this way – if they were in your shoes and took a few extra beats to answer something you’d asked them, would you mind? Of course, you wouldn’t.

Childhood is often where we develop these vocal habits and whilst it can be a difficult journey to eliminate something so ingrained, the results in doing so become a powerful weapon in your professional and personal skill set.

Start with identifying how often you say it a day, then work on being mindful and present with the “Pause, think, answer” approach. Don’t be afraid to take your time, life can wait that extra few seconds whilst you gather your answer.

The more you practise this, the more it will start to take over the ingrained interjections and become your default automated response. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Practise Makes Perfect.

Keep these in mind as you’re preparing for your next meeting or presentation:

– Practicing the “Pause. Think. Respond.” method. Try it with your friends and family, then move onto shop-keepers, bus drivers or others you may interact with on a daily basis. The more you do it, the better you’ll get!

– Do The Stall (but only if you have to). Remember whilst a pause is always best, The Stall buys you extra time. Give this a go and get someone to ask you a question you don’t know the answer to.

– If all goes pear shaped, use the scenario as a learning opportunity to your advantage. Ask questions, get feedback, improve and grow.

– And finally, confidence is always key. With every scenario we’ve covered today, the main point is presenting as confident and knowledgeable in all your professional interactions.

Get in touch with Slidesho to discuss how you can turn Umms… into Ahhs!! There’s nothing like that secure feeling of confidence with Slidesho’s professional eye and beautifully designed slides behind your presentation.

Written by Paige Hart for Slidesho

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