Monday, August 20, 2007

replace your visual "ums"

I've coached you before about verbal "ums" and their equivalents -- words or phrases that repeatedly pop out of your mouth as think-aloud placeholders when you're trying to remember what you wanted to say. For some, the "um" turns into "like," "you know," "er" or other repetitive phrases...and others use their faces and bodies, unknowingly, to "um" their way through a speech, presentation or media interview. You can best catch these "visual ums" by practicing with a coach and a video camera, and you'll spot them most frequently in unscripted moments, such as during a question-and-answer session with either a reporter or an entire live audience. Look for:
- looking away from the interviewer, camera or audience (up, down or to either side);
- fidgeting or gesturing repeatedly in a certain way, such as moving one arm up and down, touching your lapel, or playing with a pencil or your watch;
- blinking repeatedly; and
- frowning or grimacing.

Some of these visual ums cost you in connecting with the audience or interviewer: Looking away when you're answering a question may make you seem untrustworthy, or as if you are not convinced of your answer, and frowning or grimacing may come across to the viewer as if you feel negatively about them or the question, or both.

The solution's similar to your strategy for verbal "ums" -- replace the look or gesture with a tactic that buys you time to think, but doesn't interrupt the verbal or visual flow of your answer or comment. And you may need to couple a new look or gesture with a verbal um-replacement, as your visual appearance shifts don't actually buy you time in the way that a well-turned phrase might do. So look directly at your questioner, smile, and say out loud a safe and appropriate delay tactic, such as, "I get that question all the time..." or "Tell me more about what you're thinking about X," or "That reminds me of a story from the days when I was just starting out." And while you say that, think of what you really need to remember to say. Then contact Denise Graveline for coaching at

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