Saturday, August 4, 2018

A useful and a less-than-useful article about reducing use of filler words

On August 1, 2018 there was an article by Noah Zandan at the Harvard Business Review that was mistitled How to Stop Saying “Um,” “Ah,” and “You Know.” That article instead discussed how to reduce the use of filler words and it said:

Using research that incorporates behavioral science, AI, and data, the people science firm I run, Quantified Communications, determined that the optimum frequency is about one filler per minute, but the average speaker uses five fillers per minute — or, one every twelve seconds.

Back in February 13, 2014 I blogged about how Adding a few uhs and ums improved recall of plot points in stories. A psychology experiment I discussed showed that fillers are useful and should not be eliminated. Their presence is a quantitative problem rather than a qualitative one.  

On July 31, 2018 Joel Schwartzberg posted on the BK Blog (from Berrett-Koehler Publishers) about The 4 enemies of making your point. Joel said the four enemies were And, Badjectives, Nonsense Words, and Apologies. He claimed filler words often were nonsense:

“Obviously you want to be making sense, and not nonsense. But these common words often fall into the category of nonsense: Umm, Ah, So…

In official Toastmasters meetings, a member is typically assigned the role of ‘Ah Counter,’ and that person literally counts the number of times a speaker says one of those nonsense words.

But while it’s important to know how often you use nonsense crutches – especially knowing what your crutch words are – knowing them hardly puts you on the path to correcting them. It’s just hard to stop doing something instinctual, even when you know it’s wrong.

What you need is something to replace that destructive activity – a rhetorical Nicorette. In the case of nonsense words, the appropriate replacement is a pause. An intentional pause is one of your best communication allies because it creates time for you, suspense for your audience, and typically is forgotten by the audience later. So train yourself to sense when a nonsense word is coming, and use a pause instead.”      

That single sentence in his second paragraph has four different problems. First, a member is always (not just typically) assigned the role of Ah-Counter at a Toastmasters club meeting. (In smaller clubs that role sometimes is combined with the Grammarian role, and the combination is called the Ah-Grammarian). Second, I have been to other official Toastmasters meetings (Toastmasters Leadership Institutes held by Divisions, and District Conferences), but they never have an Ah-Counter – only a club meeting does. Third, literally is redundant. Fourth, those really are filler words, and they are not nonsense. 

Joel previously had referred to bad adjectives as Badjectives. Similarly both typically and literally can be called Badverbs.    

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