Any extraneous language that pads your sentences without adding any additional meaning equals a crutch word. Crutch words in presentations is bad because crutch words are also called “fillers”. Instead of taking those key pauses to let the audience digest what you are saying, those pauses are filled with empty words that weaken your overall message. Using crutch words takes away from the forcefulness and eloquence of your speech.
It is thought that crutch words have been around since the beginning of spoken language and every person uses them on some scale and they vary depending on location and language! For example, umm if American’s favorite crutch word, the British use err, and Croats use ovay.
Eliminating crutch words is the fastest way to improve oneself as a speaker! You become easier to understand and it will be easier for you to get your point across. It will also give you more confidence.
Don’t pollute your speech – if you use transitions like “then”, be careful not to make them crutch words by saying them over and over again. Watch how many times you use “and, and then, and so, so then, also”.
Take a look at any emergency situation news coverage. Professional journalists will “uhh” several times each sentence because they are not scripted on the teleprompter anymore, and they do not know the material they are speaking about like usual.
Why do we use crutch words:
- Crutch words indicate that the speaker is in trouble and that he needs a moment to plan what to say next or hunt for something stored in his memory.
- Crutch words come out more when your brain is idle at the juncture of planning and executing what to say next. This idle happens when we think and speak at the same time. When you talk slower, you can avoid the idle brain that prompts you to fill a pause with a crutch word.
- A crutch word can act as placeholders so the audience knows you will continue speaking. This placeholder shows that you are still in charge, but can make you seem lost or provide opportunity for others to jump in. (You see this often with people with large families because using crutch words prevents them getting cut off and prevents others from talking.)
- They indicate to an audience that you are not confident in what you are about to say, and you doubt your words, so the audience questions you.
- Crutch words appear before non-answers like “ umm, I don’t know” or answers you doubt.
It has been observed that professionals that deal with abstract topics are four times more likely to use crutch words when speaking because those professions are searching for how to express or describe
One 1995 study rated ummers as uncomfortable, inarticulate, uninteresting, ill prepared, nervous, disfluent, unattractive, monotonous, unsophisticated, and lacking confidence.
The use of fillers goes up when you are on the phone because you don’t have body language and facial expression at your disposal so you struggle with choosing the right words to convey what you mean.
We need pauses because they help emphasize points and give listeners time to understand what you are talking about. Remember, although you may be an international expert and have your speech memorized, the audience needs more time than you to interpret what you plan to say.
How to Combat the Crutch Words in Presentations
- Get a Counter and Be Aware – If you are giving an important speech, get a friend to count the amount of times you utter an um or ah. Keeping numbers makes you highly aware of when your using these speech-killers.
- Eliminate crutch words from your everyday vocabulary! – Watch your crutch words when chatting with friends and family, it’s difficult, so the more you can delete crutch words from everyday usage, the easier it will be to delete them from your speech.
- Have a strategy – Prepare your words so you can minimize the use of crutch words. If the information is simple and streamlined, a pause or a filler will not be needed to retrieve it!
- Keep your sentences simple and short – The longer and more complex the sentence, the more likely a crutch will be necessary. Be more forceful and confident to get rid of the “kind of, sort of, stuff like that, probably, hopefully, reasonably, I was thinking, I was wandering…” Be the expert!
- Concentrate on the transitions – Since transitions add to the cognitive load, that is when filler words pop up. Plan out exactly how you will transition and, if you must, use index cards or an outline so you can glance at your plan.
- Practice, practice, practice! – You should know your presentation before giving it. If you spend all your time thinking what to say next, you can’t put emphasis on avoiding crutch words. Once you eliminate crutch words, you can deliver unprepared speeches more effectively. It is hard to cut the um’s if you aren’t prepared.
- Don’t Fear the Silence – People naturally want to avoid silence. You’ve been conditioned for two-way conversations your entire life. Since it is only you talking, your brain automatically attempts to prevent silence.
- Breathe In, Not Out – When you feel lost on your way through a point, breathe in. This may add a pause to your presentation, but it gives your brain that moment, and it is far better than empty words that blur sentences together.
- Avoid Brain Idle! – Umms come in when your next sentence isn’t flowing effortlessly. Your mind is still catching up, so to avoid the silence, you umm to fill the space. Instead, take a quick pause before moving on. The audience won`t notice and it will make your presentation smooth.
- Stick to what you know! – If you know what you are talking about and you like what you are talking about, then you should struggle less for wording. It becomes easier to emphasize points because it flows effortlessly!
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