Errrrr, ummm

I never really noticed this until I watched a video of myself presenting at last year’s Lotusphere Comes To You… I do say “errrr” quite a lot when I do presentations, usually to start a sentence or bridge the gap between two passages of speech. It seems to have become habitual. Maybe I don’t do it all the time, I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it even though I know I do it. A rather detailed analysis of the cause and the remedy suggests that people resort to these linguistic ticks when they’re uncomfortable with the subject matter and when they’re in a situation where they’re more fearful of the judgement.

There are presentations that I do often – right now I could do the Notes / Domino 8.5 overview in my sleep, and without even needing to see the slides. Typically the Lotusphere Comes To You content is something fairly new, in format if not in content, and overall less familiar. The size of the audience doesn’t concern me – I would usually say that speaking to four hundred people is easier than speaking to four. But having said that, with a large and varied audience you have to be mindful of the level you’re pitching at and you can’t solicit feedback as you go about whether they’re understanding what you’re saying.

When LCTY comes round at the end of April, I don’t want to focus on eliminating the errrs and ummms too much – the content is more important. But at the same time I’d like to break what has obviously become a bad habit.


  1. Good post. Very hard to fix. I noticed it after recording and editing a few of my meetings and webcasts. For a few months I put a post-it note with “UMM” written on it, on top of my speaking notes at meetings. It kept my mind on it and I think I improved. Though I tend to forget about it and revert backwards.

  2. All seriousness though, get your kids to watch it, tell them they get 5p or 10p with inflation every time they hear you say it. They’ll be loaded and you’ll start saying it less.

  3. It’s pretty normal. It your minds natural reaction to it thinking it needs to be saying something right now, so instead of our wonderful minds actually saying something intelligent it allows us to spit out URRRRS and UMMMMS. You have to learn to tell your brain to stop saying them, and replace it with a breath or breathing. That helped me, but I still do it when I am stressed.

    It’s not easy to break, but can be done. Now I have to fix how my voice sounds. I hate listening to myself.

  4. errmm. Don’t worry Darren, errmm, you are still a million miles away errmm from Wayne errmm Rooney! It is all based errmm (sorry, I’ll stop now) on being nervous of your situation – I find I use complex words that aren’t in my normal vocabulary when I’m speaking in public – most errmm (sorry, couldn’t resist!) odd.

    Most memorable public speaking cock up was at the Channel\press launch of SmartSuite in London years and years ago – I said spreadshit rather than spreadsheet – only the sound man mentioned it afterwards, but I assume everyone else heard it if he did. Never mind there were only 400 of them there!

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