Speaker loses train of thought: um, uh, you know vs silence

One of my tasks this week was to record a video tutorial for coworkers and then edit it. In the only take I spoke for twenty minutes - without a script or any notes, by the way - and in that time only said “um” once and used no other filler noises or sounds. This is pretty typical for me - when I don’t know what to say, I say nothing. I’m not sure (yet, poll coming) listeners think, but it sure makes editing easier!

On the other hand, I know people who can’t complete a full sentence without a filler sound um/ah/uh/er or throwing in meaningless words and/or even phrases while they try to think, like “well”, “so”, “so yeah,” “you know,” “right!”, “eh,” “it’s like,” “what I’m trying to say,” “the key thing is” and “the thing of it is.”

Ums and Ahs driving me batty, which is why I roll my eyes hard enough to sprain them when people talk about so-and-so being a great public speaker but their speech is just filled with these nonsense sounds. I feel it makes the person sound less intelligent than they are.

A few chronic ummers have defensively said that people find silence “disconcerting” so they feel the need to make a sound that indicates that they intend to keep speaking. Now, I’ve never had anyone complain to me that they find my own silences disconcerting, but obviously these people must.

So what about you? You’re listening to someone speak and they lose their train of thought for let’s say somewhere between a quarter of a second and a second. Would you rather they say nothing while they gather their thoughts or add a sound or word that adds nothing topically to their sentence?

Remain silent…up to a point.

I know a guy who is always so very helpful when anyone else is speaking. He’s always filling in words for them. “So the Speaker of the…” “House!” “Four score and…” “Seven!”

Shut up, shut up, shut up!

At least wait until the distress lasts long enough to make it clear they aren’t just pausing, but seriously have lost their way.

“Speak of the…um… Oh, doggone it… You know what I mean…”
“Speaker of the House?”
“That’s it! Thanks!”

It’s a little like when to honk your horn when the traffic signal turns green but the car ahead of you doesn’t start. Only jerks honk in the first second. Give it a nice slow count of four, and only then consider a quick honk.

Depends. Excessive in either direction is annoying, but filler words seem more common so people who just stop talking can be unsettling if they do it too much. There are no cues that they are still in the middle of a thought. It’s kind of hard to explain without examples, but I recall one speaker who did this.

About 20 years ago I took a public speaking course at work. They videotaped the performance and then it was played back for the class for critique. Wow. I touched (grabbed?) my nose about once every 20 seconds. It was very revealing and I have modified my public speaking ever since. The speaking wasn’t too bad, but the nose! WTH?

I’m sure other people would benefit from a playback. With today’s technology that’s pretty darned easy to do. Back in my day it was a tripod with a video camera. People don’t realize what they’re doing in front of an audience. I certainly didn’t.