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The Ums And Ahs Of Communication

Updated on February 9, 2013

What Do Ums And Ahs Communicate?

It is amazing how two little words Um and Ah can have such a powerful impact on your ability to construct or destroy your standing in the eyes of others. Whether you are making a presentation , giving a speech or engaged in a social conversation each time you interact with another you are creating your public image , building your credibility and establishing your reputation . You are in fact selling yourself every time you open your mouth to communicate with another.Those two little words, those ums and ahs , communicate far more that a mere vocable. The truth is ums and ahs communicate volumes in terms of the state of your self confidence , self image and your credibility. Any insecurities you may have, even those you may not be aware of, will be exposed for all to see with a simple um or ah . You may know your topic inside and out but ums and ahs may well give others the wrong impression as they will assume that you do know very little about your subject. this is because ums and ahs are caused by either a lack of self confidence , a lack of sincerity or a lack of knowledge . As ums and ahs also communicate how well you know your subject their usage will lay open to others that you have not mastered and taken ownership of your knowledge. Ums and ahs will then serve to communicate that you are operating at a level of mediocrity or worse, by rote in relationship to the subject.

It Does Not Have To Be A Grind

Even if you have no need of public or professional speaking skills you do need social skills. Your ability to communicate effectively is a skill you need to foster in order to achieve success in any endeavor you undertake as communication is a key element in any relationship whether it be personal, professional or casual. Therefore it behooves you to rid yourself of these two dastardly little um ah vocables. There are Toastmasters Clubs world wide and these clubs are an excellent training ground for mastering the art of communication . You may have to "shop around" a little to find the club in your area that suits you and your needs but it is well worth it to find one that does. One of the first steps to handling ums and ahs is practice, practice, practice. It is through such practice that your self confidence and self esteem will grow. No different than the means you employed when you learned to tie your shoelaces. There are any number of other organizations and individuals who lend themselves to assisting and enabling others to communicate more effectively . You can even put your own group together in order to practice your speaking and listening skills. Ums and ah s are what your mouth spits out while your mind is occupied with grinding away trying to think of what to say. Feed your mind, boost your confidence and those little ums and ahs will disappear back into the unknown from whence they came.

The first time I ever gave a speech at Toastmasters I was surprised that a body could shake so hard and still remain standing. Even though I had the benefit of notes as a newcomer and had in fact read my whole speech I was awash with nerves. The following is a short list of the effective methods I used to overcome my shaky, shaky heart.

Some Um And Ah Tips

Locate Yourself In The Space - this little exercise allows you to become familiar with and comfortable in your physical surroundings. As you do this exercise your sense of belonging will increase and you will feel a sense of expansion.

Look at the top four corners of the room - first one corner, than the next and so on until you have connected with each of the four corners. Couldn't be simpler but it makes a big difference!

Increase Your Harmony With The Room

Look around the room and find something that you like. Notice it's attributes and its use or function. What is it about the object that you like? Continue looking around the room selecting and noticing objects and identifying what it is you like about each object that you select. Again, simple but your affinity for the space you are occupying will increase and you will not be fighting your environment.

Connect With The People In The Room

The same method that you applied to objects you can then apply to the people in the room. Look around the room, select a person in the room, find something that you can like about that person be it a hair style, the way they smile, the color of their shirt, whatever it is that you like. Do this with a handful of people in the room. Now you have made a connection with some of the people in the room and you are feeling friendly towards them and comfortable with them.

Now you will be communicating in an environment that you are in harmony with and feel friendly towards. These little exercises can be done regardless of the venue for your social interaction. It can be giving a speech, attending a business conference or sitting down for a social lunch. Anywhere, anytime you are feeling uncomfortable and insecure these simply little exercises will go a long way to pulling you out of that state.

Know Your Stuff

A simple statement to make but not so easy to achieve. Depending on your subject you may find yourself studying and practicing long and hard before you really know your stuff - inside and out! Knowing your subject will allow you to speak with authority and with sincerity. You will be listened to and you will be sought after. When you get into communication with another it serves both parties well if you know what you are talking about! If you don't know your subject you will be scrambling around in dead area space and that is where the lurking ums and ahs will make their way into your mind and out your mouth.

If You Don't Know Your Stuff

Ask intelligent questions. This will validate the party communicating. It will keep the conversation going and you may well learn a thing or two and walk away from the exchange that all the wiser for it. This will go along way to build your reputation as being a person well worth talking to.

Practice listening. To often when someone else is speaking we are not listening as we are too busy thinking about what we are wanting to say. We've all been party to social exchanges where very little communication actually reaches it's destination as we all strive to talk over the top of each other. Good listeners are extremely valuable and they too are sought out by others.

Look The Monster Dead In The Eye

As I progressed from a newcomer to a my next level as a speaker in Toastmasters the bar was raised and the expectations were higher. In Toastmasters there is a "grammarian" whose duty is not only to keep an ear out for word usage and grammar but also ums and ahs. Indeed they actually count ums and ahs and give a tally at the end of the meeting as to who had how many of each or both. The thought of someone keeping score did not disconcert me, it terrified me as I have a tendency to do the very thing that I do not want to do. I don't want to sound stupid, I don't want to make mistakes, I don't want to look like a fool and on goes the I don't want list. I don't want to say ums or ahs when I speak - take it to the bank they will drop out of my mouth like rain from the sky.

The first time I had to give a speech where my ums and ahs would be counted I decided to be at cause over the little critters. Following is the speech I presented in order to do just that.

"I stand before you today to address a plague. A plague that descends, seemingly out of nowhere and afflicts its unwelcome self on Toastmasters, executives, students, teachers, parents, children, in fact anyone who ventures into the area of communicating with others.

Madame Chairman, Fellow Toastmasters, Most Welcome Guests

This plague can present itself in two words – the word um and the word ah.  In order to control anything you first have to be able to define it and as I am not alone in my desire to control those ums and ahs I share the definition with you here.

Um is defined as a word used in writing to signify the kind of sound people make when they hesitate while speaking.

Ah expresses emotion which can range from sheer delight through to acute distress depending on the tone the speaker uses when uttering an ah.  Ah can also be used to express understanding, surprise or recognition.

I have often found um or ah to be preferable to some of the other words that find their way out of my mouth when one of those silent but often deadly moments of mind flatulence has ambushed me. I cite you three examples of when an um or an ah would have been just dandy to have on hand as response rather than what made it’s way out of the abyss of mind flatulence, known in some circles as the brain fart.

I am sixteen years old, we have just moved from Kerrisdale to ten acres in Langley. Our new neighbour, a wealthy, distinguished looking West Vancouver lawyer who has a weekend estate down the road a piece approaches me. I want to appear sophisticated, grown-up and intelligent. I failed. As he proceeded to tell me how another neighbour’s herd of cows got out on our property, over the front lawn, through the vegetable garden, in the flower beds, I find I have very little to say in response. Um would have been good. Ah, would have been awesome. Instead, I stood there slack jawed uttering a refrain of well dispersed “Holy Cow”. Over and over and over again in spite of me silently beseeching my mouth to stay shut.

Now I am nineteen. It is just before Christmas and I have started a new job in an Engineering Department at the telephone company. There are engineers, technicians, draftsmen and engineering clerks of which I am one. The big boss has a corner office and is seldom seen by the lowliest of the low such as myself. One day the whole office went out for a Christmas luncheon. On returning the big kahuna from the corner office, I didn’t even think he knew I existed, asked me how I liked my new job. I told him I liked it and then, one of those blank spots hit. He was looking at me like he expected me to say more. So, wanting to seem grown-up, sophisticated and intelligent I asked him if he would like to hear my new toast. Without waiting for a reply, I launched - "I wish I could drink like a lady.  I wish I could learn to coast.  One drink I'm under the table, two drinks I'm under the host!"

One look at his face and I knew that a well placed um or a thoughtful ah, would have been a far, far better thing to have uttered.

It gets worse. It gets terrible. I am twenty-four. All grown up, I’ve just purchased my first home. A friend’s mother called and asked if her son was there. No, I replied, but I am expecting him shortly. She asked that I have him call her as soon as he got there. It was important. His uncle had just committed suicide. Oh No, I cried, what happened. He had shot himself. As she moved through her story of what led up to it and the details of what happened I found myself at intermittent moments throughout the tale, “Doesn’t that just blow you away?” Over and over and over like the Moronic Tabernacle Choir, my mouth was fully engaged, and it would not do my bidding at all. Repeated pleas from me to myself to SHUT UP were to no avail. Ooohhh thirty years later and this still makes me cringe. What I wouldn’t have given for a few uhs and an empathetic ah or two.

It is time to put the ums and ahs plague into perspective. Far worse things can spill out of your mouth than an um or an ah. It is said that the thing you resist you get more of. Well I have totally given up my resistance to sounding stupid. I can be at the effect of my own stupidity and I can be the cause of my own stupidity.  Resisting anything makes it stick like the proverbial tar baby and the best way to handle your resistance is to play with it, make more of it, get at cause over the thing, go the effect of the thing.  Well, um, the only thing left to say is that I'm done so now you can all let out a nice long, Aaahhhhh!

Madame Chairman"


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I could read a book about this without finding such real-world aphraocpes!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      You've imsrseped us all with that posting!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thnnkiig like that is really amazing

    • raisingme profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      Thank You. I wasn't to keen on public speaking either, in fact terrified of it. Toastmasters really helped me get past it. Looked the monsters in the eye and found they were not monsters after all. I will admit that it took me awhile before my knees stopped knocking together. There was a time I was terrified of writing too. Got past that one as well but I'm hanging on to my terror of heights and wild rats! I'm going to stick to the low ground and cuddly critters.

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 

      8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Raisingme, great hub, so much information about two little words. Well done. I for one absolutely hate public speaking, I become so nervous that ums and ahs just take over. I'll stick to just writing the speeches thanks.

    • raisingme profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      I have heard teacher's correcting this but Like you know it's like they don't talk in front of their teachers like this - "No Way!" There are a few other words that are even less socially acceptable that they utter amongst themselves too. It's like ya know it's not like they don't know how to speak properly it's like they just don't like to. Either that or ums and ahs have had an upgrade!

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 

      8 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      I assume teachers don't pick up on and correct pupils these days, I was in a cafe this morning and over heard a conversation between two teen somethings and every sentence contained "Ya Know... and It's Like... He Like...!"

      I can just about understand "No Way!" as a statement but what the hell does "Yes Way" mean in response... ? Is it even English ?

      Where's Nellieanna when you need her...?

    • raisingme profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      At which time one learns the meaning of a vacuum. Too bad we can't just handle it by saying, "Excuse me, I just had a brain burp!"

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 

      8 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      UM !! I thought everybody knew that it is a scientific fact of nature that the human brain starts working from the very moment of birth right up to the point when you stand up to speek in public !

    • raisingme profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      Thanks for the comment. Just seeing your picture never fails to brighten my day!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      raisingme!!! That's too funny about your Mom saying Y'all after being in Texas - I say it very seldom but when one needs a "y'all" - there's nothing else that will fill its place better! lol

      well um , uh - maybe "howdy, y'all?"

      It is amazing how much funnier things get in retrospect, though, isn't it?

      Good article, m'dear. Speaking well is most certainly an advantage one can't buy for any amount of money!

    • raisingme profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      Thanks for your comment! It is amazing how time past can make an event in one's life funny that was so not funny when it was taking place. My mum has the Canadian penchant for using 'eh. After spending six months in Texas one year it turned into Y' when she returned home.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 

      8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      This is a great hub with some great information. Also, your personal stories are pretty funny! I remember when my Grandpa hated for us to say um. But I still say it and have passed it on to my daughter. Guess we'll have to work on that!


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