CXO

Trainers: Just say no to "uh" and "um"

If you want to be a good trainer, you must learn to be a good public speaker. Jeff Davis will show you how to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for hemming and hawing.


I had a bad training experience recently. I attended a seminar by an industry expert who came to town to provide training on a new product. This expert was a nice enough gentleman, but he was a lousy trainer. He couldn’t speak.

He, uh, couldn’t—um—start or finish a sentence without, uh, stopping and um, searching for the right, uh, words. I was embarrassed for him, and the quality of the training suffered because of his poor communication skills. (He also wore an unironed shirt and hadn’t brushed his hair, but that’s another gripe session.)

Just say it
Some of you may say, “Oh come on, Jeff, give the guy a break.” No. When an expert comes in and you set aside time for training, you should get your money’s worth. You should get an expert who not only knows the product, but also knows how to communicate.

The telltale sign of a poor public speaker is the frequent—or in this case, constant—use of “uh” and “um” during a presentation. Those words signify a lack of preparation and a lack of confidence in one’s command of the material.

So, how do you stop saying “uh” and “um” during a presentation? Two words: Think first. Think before you open your mouth. Think to yourself, “Okay, what do I need to communicate next?” Then just say it. Don’t give me no stinkin’ “uh” or “um.”

Tips for better public speaking
What kind of trainer would you rather be: One who’s technically competent but a poor speaker or a good speaker who doesn’t know the material thoroughly? I hope you said “neither” because the best trainers know their material and present it in a professional manner. Here are some suggestions to help trainers become better public speakers:
  • Tape-record one of your training sessions and listen to it. This exercise is hard to do, but it’s well worth the effort. Count the number of times you say “uh” or “um.” (If you don’t want to record a real training session, practice a few minutes of your presentation in front of a mirror and record it.)
  • Nail your introduction. This is an old stand-up comedy tip: Always know the first thing that’s going to come out of your mouth when you first go on stage. I recommend something like: “Good morning. I think I’ve met most of you already, but let me introduce myself to the rest of you. My name is Jeff Davis, and I’m looking forward to working with you and having a great training session.” Even in the most casual environment, even if you have already met everyone in the room, introduce yourself in your opening statement. Show a little enthusiasm for being there. You are being paid after all.
  • Have something prepared in your vocabulary “safety net” besides “uh” or “um.” We’re only human, and sometimes we’re going to lose our train of thought. When that happens, there are a million things you can say instead of “uh” and “um.” Practice some of your favorite phrases aloud in front of a mirror before you go to work. “All-righty then.” “All right now, let’s see.” “Well now.” “Let me see, what do we want to talk about next.”
  • Know your last word. Have a closing statement prepared for the end of the training session. Don’t stand there and say, “Uh, I guess that’s all we have.” Instead, say, “Well, ladies and gentleman, that’s about all there is for this session. If there aren’t any more questions, I want to thank you very much for your time and attention.”

Moral of the story: As a professional public speaker, you need a zero-tolerance policy for using “uh” and “um” during training. Make the decision to upgrade your speaking skills, then build a little subroutine in your brain that previews what you’re going to say before you start talking.
If you want to comment on this column or chime in with your own tips for better public speaking, please send me a note .

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox