Nothing is more disappointing than hearing your baseball hero or off-screen movie star stumble through an interview peppered with more “yaknows,” “ums,” and “ahs,” than an eight-year-old caught preparing to drop a lizard on his unsuspecting classmate’s head. More often than not, presenters who are responding to questions or speaking off the cuff don’t even realize they are filling “thinking time” with such vocalizations.
One technique for eventually removing the yaknows from your presentation style is to first hear yourself on audio or video tape. You may be amazed at how often you revert to vocalizations while speaking to an audience but are as oblivious to it as you are to snoring while you’re sleeping. However, your audience–like your bed partner–is likely to be greatly distracted.
Once you recognize the vocalizations you are spewing into your speaking patterns, you will be more likely to recognize that you are about to use them. Then, try inserting a pause in place of the vocalization. For this to sound natural, you should be speaking at about 150 words per minute. If you’re talking too fast, a pause will sound like a stumble; too slow, listeners may start checking your pulse.
The pause can be a very effective speaking tool, gaining the audience’s attention just before a major revelation or signaling a transition point. With the right pacing, it can also serve as a tool to get you past the yaknows and into what the audience actually should know.